St. Benedict’s overcomes obstacles to a church edifice - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

St. Benedict’s overcomes obstacles to a church edifice

October 28th, 2021 development
St. Benedict’s overcomes  obstacles to a church edifice

By Paul Maryniak, Executive Editor

The road to a real church edifice has been a long and sometimes heartbreaking journey for the congregation of St. Benedict Catholic Church in Ahwatukee.

It began promising enough for a church that serves scores of Chandler families.

In June 2018, just six weeks after launching a fund drive to cover half the cost of a $7 million, 20,000-square-foot church on 48th Street south of Chandler Boulevard, the building committee had raised $2.5 million.

Hopes were high that a new building would be open on Christmas Day 2019.

But in August 2018, Father Bob Binta – the congregation’s beloved pastor and chief cheerleader for a new building – passed away after a battle with cancer.

Then, in May 2019, building campaign General Manager Eamonn Ahearne announced that the committee of dedicated parishioners was dialing back its schedule after some financial soul-searching.

But a parish-wide determination to replace the gymnasium-like building that has served about 1,300 families for more than 15 years prevailed.

And at 10 a.m. Nov. 6, Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmstead will be leading the groundbreaking for the redesigned building on S. 48th Street south of Chandler Boulevard. Parishioners aim to open it by Christmas of next year.

The groundbreaking will mark a major step in a journey that began nearly seven years ago for a few dozen parishioners who have devoted countless months to raising money, poring over budgets and hashing out design ideas.

St. Benedict Building Committee Chairman Bob Prezkop said plans have radically changed over the last three years.

Because of costs and some push-back by city planning and zoning officials, Pastor Fr. James Aboyi, V.C., in May 2020 urged the committee to consider making the existing building look like a church.

The plans the committee came up with so radically altered the big-box-like structure, Prezkop said, that last February “when we presented it to our parishioners, many of them said, ‘Where’s the old building? What did you do with it?’”

“We had a full-blown committee and they worked through all the detailed design of what I’ll call Plan A, which was the original building,” Prezkop said. “Then we had a core team of about three of us who headed the new design for Plan B.”

“Once that design was accepted,” he continued, “we then brought on our interior committee and a number of other committees to assist us with going into the detail.”

The result of all that work is a radical transformation of the existing building’s exterior and interior that is expected to cost roughly half the estimated $7.3 million that a new building would have cost.

Most of the existing building will be redesigned.

The west wall will be removed to make way for new transepts, structures that are perpendicular to the nave to form a cross.

There will be a new and larger sanctuary, where Mass is held, on the west side, repositioned from its current location on the building’s north side. Two sacristies are planned for priests and deacons to prepare for services and store their vestments and other essentials.

A bell tower operating on a carillon system will be built and a 100-seat chapel will be added that may afford almost 24/7 access.

Parishioners will be able to gather and socialize in a covered space on the northeast corner of the building or on the grassy area near the north entry.

Real pews will replace folding chairs, a new altar will be built and even a choir loft wired for an organ will be added with two staircases and elevator. Plans call for a bride room, a “cry room,” new lighting and upgraded audio-visual and HVAC systems.

The church’s exterior will retain the tan color that also is on the outside walls of adjacent St. John Bosco Catholic School, although some accents are anticipated.

Prezkop said the overall design will increase the nave’s capacity from roughly 600 to about 800 congregants.

The pandemic has proven to be no significant obstacle to the parishioners involved in the whole process as Zoom meetings with architects could be held and “when we did have face-to-face meetings we had masks and stayed six feet apart,” Prezkop said.

“One of the benefits of having a small core team was that we could move forward during the pandemic,” he added.

Prezkop anticipates construction will begin soon after the groundbreaking, but added that the Christmas 2022 opening target will depend on how quickly the congregation can get the necessary building permits from the city.

Then there are also the supply line hassles that could make getting building materials – and possibly more costly.

“We’re always concerned” about rising materials costs,” Prezkop said, “but we seem to be in decent shape right now.”

He said when the team last year
realized it would have to drop “Plan A,” I was disappointed, the team was disappointed….“But we thought out of the box, came up with a great solution and were able to move forward to groundbreaking and, hopefully, our future Mass next year.”