If You Build It …

April 8-14, 2004
If You Build It …
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish Builds Parish Center to Meet Growing Needs

BALDWINSVILLE –– St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church is responding to the fastest growing area in Onondaga County by expanding its facility with a parish ministry center which will cost close to $3 million. The town of Lysander has grown 18 percent in the last decade. According to Karen Rice, clerk of the Town of Lysander Planning Board, there are three lots in the Radisson community currently being developed that will add 283 residential housing units to the area. Developers are also in the planning stages of adding additional subdivisions that would add 1,203 residential houses and 240 multi-family units in Lysander over the next 10 years according to Rice. The rapid growth in housing in Lysander and Radisson has found St. Elizabeth Ann Seton bursting at the seams.

Father John Wagner, pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, said that the parish continues to grow each year. Of the 2,000 families in the parish, 1,500 of them are active and participating, said Father Wagner. The new parish center, recently named Seton Hall, will take nine months to complete. It will include a large conference room, smaller individual meeting rooms, the parish food pantry, a gymnasium facility and a full commercial kitchen. Father Wagner said that it is only through the cooperation of St. Mary’s Parish in Baldwinsville that they are able to host CYO athletic events. “We use St. Mary’s gymnasium for athletic practices and games,” said Father Wagner. “The new gymnasium will give us the opportunity to offer programs not only in athletics for boys and girls, but also senior citizen programs such as exercise and aerobic classes.”

The new commercial kitchen will allow the parish to host pancake breakfasts, funeral receptions, spaghetti dinners, dinner dances and youth group activities on site. “These are things we haven’t been able to do before,” said Father Wagner. “We will also be able to hold retreats that previously we went off site to do,” he said. Father Wagner said that the parish gets a lot of requests to use meeting space, and organizations have been turned away because of the lack of facility space. The new meeting rooms will be utilized by groups such as Healing Hearts — the separated and divorced support group, cancer support groups, adult Bible study classes, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, Gamblers Anonymous meetings and more. Upon completion of the facility, the preschool that is currently housed in the church building will be relocated to the new parish center. “We will then be able to retrieve the religious education rooms to be used solely for religious education instruction,” said Father Wagner. “There are 1,100 kids in the religious education program and preschool enrollment is presently at 110 children,” he said. “We also have over 35 families in the parish with adopted children. We gather twice a year to celebrate that.”

Jennifer Hill, a parishioner at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton for 12 years and parish council president, said that the parish grows each year. Like Father Wagner, Hill said that the parish is a young one, which is evident by the number of children in the religious education program. “We have a great parish,” said Hill. “People love being involved. There’s a strong sense of pride and community here.” Hill said that she attends 9 a.m. Mass on Sunday and that the 750 seats are usually filled. “I think that most Masses are filled,” she said. “On holidays we set up additional seating in the gathering area.”

Hill said that in addition to meeting the needs of the community, it will be nice to be able to meet the needs of the parishioners as well. “Funeral receptions are held in the gathering area,” she said. “It will be nice to be able to hold them somewhere more private. For the past couple of years, we have held our pancake breakfasts and dinner dances off-site,” she said. Frank Mento has been a parishioner at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton for three years. What brought him to the parish was his interest in the pastor and then the parish community. He also is excited about the expansion project. “It’s a great project. It’s brought together a number of people of diverse backgrounds,” said Mento. “St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is a young, progressive parish. This project has galvanized the people –– it’s gotten people’s blood flowing. This project is much more than a building,” said Mento. “It’s become the heart and soul of the parish. It will be a huge community draw.” Mento credits Father Wagner’s leadership for the success of the campaign, which to date has raised $1.5 million in contributions. “Father Wagner has kept the parishioners’ eyes focused on the project and what is going on. There has been strong support from the parish community for the project.”

The other parishes in the Baldwinsville area have reported that their membership has changed slightly. Father Richard Kopp, pastor of St. Mary’s, said that while his current membership remains constant, he anticipates an increase as the area continues to develop. “Our membership remains steady,” said Father Kopp. “And every Mass is filled to capacity.” St. Augustine’s has seen an increase in parish membership due in part to the expansion of its facility in 1999. A pastoral center that consists of a large gathering room, six classrooms/meeting rooms, and a new office area and music area was added. Lin Kilts, parish secretary, said that the new space has allowed them to schedule additional times and locations for their existing programs.

When St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was built in 1987, Father John Finnegan, founding pastor, had a wonderful vision for the future, said Father Wagner. “He knew what he was doing,” said Father Wagner. Father Wagner continues to work to keep that vision alive and hold open the doors to the ever-growing, faith-filled community.

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