After 12 years and two major fundraising campaigns, parishioners of St. James Catholic Church in Arlington Heights finally celebrated.
Cardinal Francis George was on hand Sunday to help dedicate their new $11.4 million expansion and renovation project.
"I am pleased to be with you during this Easter season, to bless these buildings, built through sacrifice, and that promise new life for your parish," George said at the beginning of the dedication liturgy.
The project's original goal was just to relocate all of its classrooms and formation activities to the west side of the campus, which meant moving the primary grade classrooms and older meeting rooms across Arlington Heights Road, to the site of the junior high building and parish center.
Plans grew to add a new chapel, prayer garden and other state of the art improvements to the school, such as a science lab, cafeteria, computer lab, art room, and music and band rooms.
"Everyone's been anticipating this day for so long," said Katie Sowa of Prospect Heights, an executive board member of the parish's council.
Nearly 1,000 people filled the parish center for the thanksgiving Mass. The Knights of Columbus, dressed in their full regalia, served as honor guards for the opening procession, that included priests from neighboring parishes and ended with the cardinal and the pastor, Rev. William Zavaski.
Worshipers sang in full voice during the opening song, "All Are Welcome in This Place."
The Rev. Edward Fialkoski, pastor of Our Lady of the Wayside Church in Arlington Heights, commended St. James parishioners and staff members for their long range planning, and ability to look ahead to meet their needs.
"It's impressive that all these people shared their time, talent and treasure," Fialkoski said. "They have helped to shape the vision and future of St. James for years to come."
School children played a prominent role in the dedication ceremony, from helping with the readings to performing with the choir and their percussion ensemble.
"This is the first time in 40 years that St. James students have all been under one roof," said Principal Judy Pappas. "You can definitely tell the difference. There's a calmer atmosphere, and the older kids have taken it on themselves to mentor the younger ones."
During his homily, George talked about the Catholic Church's role in sharing the gifts of faith and of creating community. After the liturgy, he walked through the facility, blessing the new rooms, before meeting with parishioners personally during a reception.
"I thank you and I congratulate you," he said at the conclusion, "for the universal church, which is God, is made visible in this parish."
Zavaski, the St. James pastor, let the spotlight shine on the cardinal during the special event but thanked parishioners in the church's bulletin.
"I am truly grateful to all of you who have made so many sacrifices," Zavaski wrote. "We will carry a large debt for a number of years, but I do believe it has definitely been worth all the heartaches and headaches so many of you have had to endure."
Details of St. James' building project.
• Relocated all 30 classrooms, preschool through 8th grade, on west side of campus
• Added meeting rooms
• New a science lab
• New an art room
• Two new computer labs
• New music and band rooms
• New cafeteria
• New chapel
• Gathering space overlooking a prayer garden
• Remodeled parish center, including a new athletic floor
• New Resource Center/Library
• Made the facility handicapped accessible, with an elevator
• Added fire safety sprinklers throughout
• Installed new heating and air conditioning systems