On Sunday May 31, 2020 hundreds of the faithful gathered on a field in St. Marys to witness the historic ceremonial groundbreaking for a new Immaculata, honoring our Holy Mother the Church and Our Lady on the Feasts of Pentecost and the Queenship of Mary.
The event was solemnized by the blessing of the site and the celebration of Mass there, during which U.S. District Superior, Fr. Jurgen Wegner, reminded us that this long-awaited Church, over forty years in the making, is being built, not for our comfort and convenience, but for the honor and glory of the Holy Name of God.
Over one hundred years ago, on another Sunday in May, the dedication of the original Immaculata, situated in the very heart of the campus, took place. When the Society of Saint Pius X acquired the property in 1978, work to restore the church that had been abandoned for eleven years began immediately. In a few months the church was nearly ready for use when an electrical fire destroyed the building.
Plans to rebuild the Immaculata were soon developed with the help of engineers engaged to study the unique original structure. Meanwhile, student enrollment in the Academy and College quickly began to grow, so that restoring classroom buildings and dormitories became priorities for project management. The old Jesuit refectory was transformed by volunteers into a beautiful “temporary” chapel just in time for a pilgrimage in St. Marys in honor of Our Lady’s Assumption, August 15, 1979. Mass continues to be celebrated in Assumption Chapel as well as in the auditorium to accommodate our ever-increasing population.
Over the course of the next four decades, the plans for a new Immaculata evolved, and slow but steady fundraising made it feasible for Fr. Rutledge to propose last year in June the May 31st 2020 groundbreaking date, a plan that was well received by the faithful of St. Marys who responded generously to the fundraising appeal made at the same time.
Preparation for the groundbreaking
Despite the uncertainties regarding civil restrictions for public gatherings and the unusually wet weather in recent weeks, the project team pressed forward with plans and preparations for the event—including requesting the Sisters’ prayers for sunshine. Everything came together by the grace of God and through the efforts of the Facilities Department workers and volunteers who prepared the site for Mass by erecting a large canopy for the sanctuary, setting up generators for the sound system and chairs for the faithful. They also constructed a large wooden cross to mark the location of the altar in the future church and brought the Pilgrim Statue of Our Lady to the site for Her May crowning.
Blessing and groundbreaking
Father Rutledge began the ceremony at 11:00 a.m. noting that 40 years ago, on the same day, the Queenship of Mary 1980, all that remained of the walls of the old Immaculata fell in a storm. He went on to explain the significance of the number forty: both Moses and Our Lord fasted forty days in the desert; Noah endured forty days of deluge on the ark; the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years. Biblically, forty symbolizes a period of testing, trial, or probation, and the completion of a period of forty days or years signifies new life, growth, or transformation. Clearly, this symbolism is also significant in the history of St. Mary’s, he said, considering the forty years of planning and fundraising to rebuild the Immaculata.
After Fr. Rutledge’s address, U.S. District Superior Fr. Wegner blessed the ground in a short ceremony, sprinkling holy water on it in all four directions, north, south, east, and west, thereby setting it aside for sacred use.
Three groups, in turn, were then honored to excavate the first ground for the project. Frs. Wegner and Rutledge were followed by members of the project team. Mr. Robert Awerkamp, Mr. Kenneth Moats, and other members of the Fr. Shyne League, whose generosity and unrelenting efforts made this event possible, also took up the shovel before the excavator.
Fr. Wegner then blessed a large wooden cross, and Fr. Rutledge with members of the project team planted it in the ground where the altar will stand in the future Immaculata.
Solemn High Mass for Pentecost Sunday
The choir sang while the priests vested for the celebration of a solemn high Mass for Pentecost. Fr. Wegner was the celebrant, Fr. Rutledge served as deacon, and Fr. Andrew, a Benedictine monk from Our Lady of Guadalupe monastery in New Mexico, served as sub-deacon.
In his homily, Fr. Wegner described the ground-breaking ceremony we were witnessing as a once in a lifetime experience. The scope of this project, he explained, is unprecedented in the history of the Society of St. Pius the X and comes at a time when the faith is under attack in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. We can expect setbacks and persecution, he said, given the importance of the work, just as forty years ago, a year and a half after the devastating fire, what remained of the walls of the old Immaculata fell, and with them, the hopes of many to rebuild it.
Furthermore, he reminded us that the purpose for today’s ceremony is not to congratulate ourselves and our ingenuity, and that the church is not being built for the accommodation and comfort of a community, but for the honor and glory of God. Our expenditure of time, effort, and funds, as well as our prayers and sacrifices he described as filial acts of love for our heavenly mother. The feast of Pentecost celebrates the birth of the Church when the Apostles received the Holy Ghost, transforming them to go out in the world to preach the gospel.
He pointed out that In the liturgy of the Vigil of Pentecost there are readings from Ezekiel, including harsh words and a promise from God who says that He will bring glory to Israel after their suffering at the hand of the gentiles. He states His purpose clearly, saying, “It is not for your sake that I will do this, O house of Israel, but for my holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations whither you went.” What we do today, Fr. Wegner told us, is for the Holy Name of God, that unbelievers may know He is the Lord; we are just simple instruments. We will all disappear and be forgotten, but His Name will be praised.
We are all imperfect; we are all sinners. Acknowledging our weaknesses, we are aware that we need a place to meet God, he said. The blessing for a new Church, he noted, includes the Latin words terribilis est locus iste, or “terrible [that is, terrific, or awesome] is this place” because God is present, and it is where we find hope.
He concluded by recalling the reaction of one our priests when Fr. Wegner told him that he had come that day to discuss plans for the Immaculata. The priest knelt and asked Fr. Wegner to bless the living stones that will build this church. As we collaborate and work together to build this home for Our Lady, may God use us as living stones, to honor His Holy Name.
Crowning of Our Lady
After Mass, the priests and servers processed to the pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima situated near the cross marking the location of the future altar of the Immaculata. A first communicant presented the crown to Fr. Rutledge, who placed it on the statue, concluding the day’s ceremonies with a tribute to Our Lady at the site or Her future home in St. Marys.
Update on Project Since Groundbreaking
"Since groundbreaking, the project team has continued to work behind the scenes with multiple meetings per week. At the end of the summer we will have finalized a guaranteed maximum price for the project. The company hired to do sitework will mobilize on July 13th, and earthwork will begin very soon after that. Please stay tuned for more details as the project gets underway, and thank you for all your prayers and support!"