St. Catherine of Siena community breaks ground on new church after 23 years

Manuelita Placa (left), Fr. José Bautista and Elba Fontanez (left) at the groundbreaking ceremony. (KATHERINE LAGUNA | FC)

By Katherine Laguna of the Florida Catholic staff – November 27, 2017

Kissimmee | For Nelson and Manuelita Placa, the journey toward a permanent sanctuary for St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Kissimmee took decades, but they always kept the faith. St. Catherine of Siena began as a mission in 1994 under the guidance of Holy Redeemer Parish. The Placas were one of the first families in the prayerful community that started with just 100 people.

“We celebrated Mass wherever we could. Sometimes taking turns in different family homes, for a short time at the Buenaventura Golf Club and in an office building just to name a few,” said Manuelita. The mission relocated one more time after the devastating tornadoes of 1998 before it finally settled into the first official multi-function building blessed by Bishop Norbert Dorsey.

The Placas worked hard serving the community, participating in several ministries at a time. Nelson mentored altar servers, while Manuelita prepared multiple Masses as a sacristan. Together, the couple taught marriage preparation classes while they held onto the hope of having a permanent worship space. As the community grew, so did the dream.

“We started with a prayer, with this dream that one day we would have an official temple, solely for Mass and adoration,” said Manuelita. She and Nelson were happily married for 47 years. When he died of a heart attack in 2015, Manuelita held onto that dream for both of them.

On November 26th, Manuelita walked into her parish with tears in her eyes, feeling the anticipation of the day. Not only was it the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe—it also marked the groundbreaking of a 23-year dream come true. Nearly 800 parishioners joined her in this joyous celebration.

“At one point along the years, it started to feel like it wasn’t going to happen or when is it going to happen, almost as if we were losing hope,” said Father José Bautista, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish. “But we continued to work as a community. We continued to pray. Just to see the sparkle of joy in the eyes of the people, it’s a renewed hope for the community of faith.”

Bishop John Noonan blessed the grounds where the 11,894 square foot temple of St. Catherine of Siena will be built. It will have room for more than 700 people and should be ready for worship by the end of 2018.

During his homily, Bishop Noonan spoke to the community saying, “This is the beginning and future of St. Catherine, but the important part about the people of faith is that you are the Church, not the building. You are the living temple. You carry Christ around in your lives. You are here today because you believe and have a relationship with Jesus Christ.”

For the parishioners of St. Catherine of Siena, seeing Bishop Noonan initiate the construction process brings joy and hope to the community. “The presence of our Bishop placing the first rock of our temple fortifies the faith of the people,” said Father Nazaire Massillon, parochial vicar of St. Catherine of Siena Parish. “The community has been waiting for this moment. The faith and passion of all the people at St. Catherine is strong and we are all riding on a wave of absolute happiness.”

Father Bautista believes the future of St. Catherine is fruitful. “To have a sacred, consecrated temple to worship God and enter into that connection with God in the liturgy and through the Sacraments—it’s our miracle.”

As for Manuelita, she plans to stay in the parish where she and her husband grew in faith together. “I know in my heart he would have loved it. Our children were raised at St. Catherine. My hope is for all of us to continue the legacy and be united in our faith as a family.”