Blessed John XXIII Catholic Church, the newest parish in theÂ Toledo diocese, has been doing things a little differently since it opened on July 1, 2005.
Actually, that wasnât much of an opening day, the Rev. Herb Weber told a visiting tour group on Tuesday (July 23), because the parish had only one member â himself, the founding pastor.
It was a rare step for the Toledo diocese to start a new parish from scratch, the previous one being St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church when it was founded in 1978 in South Toledo.
Weber said the first action he took as pastor was to drive through the new parish, which had no buildings or property at the time and was just a rectangle on the map, 17 miles wide and 4 Â½ miles deep (shaped somewhat like the state of Tennessee, he added).
The first Mass was celebrated at Blessed John XXIII on Aug. 21, 2005, which Weber considers to be the parish’s true opening day.
In eight years, the church has grown to more than 1,300 families, with a total of about 3,000 members.
Two statistics indicate how different Blessed John XXIII is from the typical parish today: It has been gaining an average of 200 families annually, and the median age of parishioners is 33.
Weber, speaking to about 80 people attending the weekly Toledo Area Ministriesâ 2013 Houses of Worship Summer Tours, gave an overview of the history and the mission of Blessed John.
Mass is held in a âmultipurpose space,â he said, in which Â there are no Stations of the Cross and no tabernacle (itâs in a side room). âWe discovered after meeting at Perrysburg High School for 3Â½ years that the church is the people, not the building,â he said.
Roncalli Hall, the same open and airy room in which Mass is celebrated on the weekends, is also set up for events ranging from a parish blood drive to a Vacation Bible School. (The multipurpose room is named for Pope John XXIII’s birth name, Angelo Roncalli.)
Weber said church leaders are constantly reminding people of four things: reverence for God and people; to invite (ânot coerce, not nagâ) people to come to church; to practice hospitality, and to pursue outreaches that help the community. During a question-and-answer session he cited outreaches that include the Perrysburg Christians United food bank, mission trips to Appalachia, helping a sister parish in Guatemala, and providing help to the needy in Lucas County.
Sister Anne Mary Molyet, a Notre Dame nun who serves as Blessed John’s pastoral assistant for evangelization, engagement and enrichment, reviewed some of the programs the parish offers, such as a Friday night âdate nightâ for couples, men’s and women’s retreats, small faith group meetings and an âAwakening Faithâ outreach that seeks to reinvigorate and reinspire those who may have stepped away from the church.
Michael Puppos, 28, pastoral associate for music and liturgy who has been with the parish since its start, talked about using two large video screens during service. The words to the songs are shown on the screens in simple white letters on a black background, he said. Hymn books were too cumbersome when the church met at the high school, so instead of hauling 600 books in and out of the building every week the parish printed the songs on paper. Eventually the move was made to video to save paper and expense.
Blessed John also streams its Mass live on its website, intending to reach people who are ill, out of the area, or otherwise unable to attend. The services are then archived for later viewing.
The parish strives to incorporate technology in ways that Â are relevant and that enhance the worship experience, without becoming distractions, Puppos said.
“I felt called to do something a little different,” he said.
Music at Blessed John is played by a live band with drums, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, violin, flute, trumpet, piano, oboe and voices, Weber said. Puppos, a classically trained musician, said the fullness of sound from the band achieves what an organ is capable of doing in its own style, with a wide dynamic and multioctave musical range.
“We are here to lead people, we are not here to perform for them,” he aded.
Eventually, Blessed John will build a separate church building. Plans are for it to be connected to the multipurpose facility, forming an L-shaped complex with the church bordering the driveway, at 24250 Dixie Highway. Weber said he hopes to break ground in 2017.
âIâm shooting for 1,000 seats; I might settle for 980â in the new church design, he said with a smile.Â
Blessed John now has 600 chairs in the main room (300 of them from the former St. Maryâs Parish, near St. Vincent Medical Center near downtown) and the gym-sized room is âoverflowingâ for at least one of the four weekend Masses, Weber said. Many of the sacred objects and furniture, such as the crucifix above the altar, were bequeathed by closed parishes. “I love that because it reminds me of the continuity of worship,” Weber said.
Behind the parish’s 25-acre property, the Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania have broken ground on a housing and elder care complex that will be built on the nuns’ 50-acre plot.
One major change looming for Blessed John is its name. It was named for Pope John XXIII, who was pontiff from 1958 until his death at age 81 in 1963. At the time the parish was founded, Pope John XXIII was “blessed,” a designation the Catholic Church gives those who have been beatified but not yet canonized.
Pope Francis announced earlier this month that Pope John XXIII will become a saint, possibly in December. When that happens, Blessed John will need to change its name, including on signs and letterhead, and switch the name of its website to reflect that Blessed John XXIII has become Saint John XXIII.
The canonization ceremony may require a trip to Rome for the pastor to celebrate the historic occasion for the parishâs namsake.
Toledo Area Ministriesâ 19th Annual Houses of Worship Summer Tours continues at 11 a.m. Tuesdays through Aug. 13. Admission is free and open to the public. Next is First Presbyterian Church of Maumee, 200 E. Broadway, on July 30, followed by Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel, 6832 Convent Blvd., Sylvania, on Aug. 6, and First Church of God, 3016 Collingwood Blvd., on Aug. 13.
For more information, visit www.TAMOhio.org or call 419-242-7401.