Feb. 10-16, 2005
Big, Bold and Beautiful
By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish Enjoys its New Parish Center
BALDWINSVILLE — From its humble beginnings with about 300 families in 1985, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church has grown to approximately 2,000 families, or 5,000 individuals. The community itself has grown tremendously over the past 20 years. Today, the strip of Route 31 where the church is located springs up new retailers and restaurants almost monthly it seems. The church’s pastor for the past nine years, Father John Wagner, has nurtured the growth of his parish while he’s watched the area expand. But, during the course of the past few years as he guided the expansion project that is called Seton Hall, Father Wagner liked to tell his congregation, “We are doing this to keep our parishioners closer to the church and not to the mall.”
After years of gratefully “borrowing” the gymnasium at nearby St. Mary’s Parish, Seton Hall at St. Elizabeth’s now offers an impressive grand hall that can be used with equal ease for wedding receptions or CYO basketball games. The new 29,000 square-foot Seton Hall had its informal dedication on Jan. 23 with the church packed to capacity as Father Wagner described the parish’s early history and how the plan for new, additional space was developed. It holds preschool classrooms, a full commercial kitchen, a large storage area for maintenance items and more meeting rooms. The religious education building was dedicated back in 1992 and included 13 classrooms and staff offices. Now there are 1,100 religious education students in the parish.
Even more awesome than the new space is the parishioners’ commitment to see this project through. Father Wagner said Seton Hall was made possible by parishioners’ pledges that cover a three year period. The $2 million pledged is two-thirds accounted for already, he said. “We did this to strengthen the unity in our parish and to keep us closer to the church,” Father Wagner said. The parish can now offer its space to community groups like Boy and Girl Scouts, separated and divorced groups, senior citizens’ groups and more. Seton Hall is handicapped accessible and provides extensive space for gatherings, both small and large. The ceramic tile and hardwood floors are tasteful, as is the deep green color that trims the grand hall.
Jennifer Hill, along with her family, has been a parishioner at. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton for 12 years. She said she and her husband were searching for a parish when her first child was due and she felt at home the minute she walked into the church. “Every Sunday you really get a feeling of family, fellowship and community here,” Hill said. She and her husband often spend time socializing with other young couples they’ve met at church. “There is a seating capacity of 740 in the church and every Mass is full,” Hill added. Hill explained that the difficulty that has faced the Catholic Church in the recent past has not significantly impacted the strong faith community at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. “We rely very heavily on volunteers. All of our religious education teachers are volunteers. We have junior and senior youth groups. Many of our Eucharistic ministers and ministers of the Word are older high schoolers or kids who have come back after college,” Hill said. “We know what we have here and we cherish that.”
Father Wagner attributes the parish’s success to the parishioners and staff at the church. “We have a wonderful staff. They work really well together and they’re not at all territorial,” Father Wagner said. Now days the parishioners have much to be proud of — the project they’ve watched develop and that they supported themselves is now a reality.
“They take a lot of pride in what’s going on here,” Father Wagner said. “They show visitors around after Mass. I stressed to them, though, that the most important facility in the parish is the worship space. That’s the heart and center of the parish. That’s where baptisms, marriages, confirmations and funerals take place. All else only enhances the heart and soul of the church.” Father Wagner and the parish family at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton welcome visitors to see the new Seton Hall as the church hosts its first pancake breakfast in the new facility on Sunday, Feb. 27.