JONESBORO — Charlotte Hemphill has considered the Blessed Sacrament Parish as family for 40 years. She was married at the Jonesboro church, watched her children baptized and married and has made a countless number of memories within the church.
“My roots are here, and I know everybody. The beauty of the Catholic Church is that no matter where you go, you are a part of that family,” Hemphill said. “You just fit in because it is universal readings, the traditions are all the same. I just love my faith and this is my family.”
Hemphill joined her second family March 19 to mark a special occasion — a groundbreaking ceremony for its new church. Pastor Father Alphonse Gollapalli said it was a fitting date since the feast day of St. Joseph, who was a carpenter by trade, was held the next day.
“This is the day we’ve all been waiting for,” Father Gollapalli said.
“It is wonderful. I am part of the history of the church here and, now, I am part of this new building,” she added. “I am very sad that the old church has to be torn down. That is a sad thing, but we will be all together in our new facility.”
The new 15,000-square-foot church is being built on a 20-acre site at 1105 E. Highland Drive, which was blessed by Bishop Anthony B. Taylor during the ceremony.
“It is a happy day,” Bishop Taylor said. “A happy day for the parish. A happy day for the diocese.”
Once built, the new church is expected to seat about 800 people. Jonesboro firm Brackett-Krennerich Architects designed the building while Nabholz will serve as general contractor.
The Jonesboro parish has worked toward building a new church for 17 years. Father Gollapalli said, first, they bought the land in 2000; second, they built a Knights of Columbus hall, school and parish hall on the land; and third, the final phase, they are building the church. Later, they might add administration offices and a parish hall addition.
Father Gollapalli anticipates they will move into the new church between June and September 2018. A decommissioning of their old church on Church Street will be held Oct. 1.
“That will be the last Mass we will have in the church,” he said. “That will give us time to take the stained glass windows, the Stations of the Cross and other materials. We are trying to salvage as much as possible from the old church.”
The parish has used the Church Street building since it was dedicated in 1933. After the decommissioning Mass, the parish will meet in St. Bernards Medical Center auditorium until the new church opens.
Amy Clancy and Tamara Jansen are both excited to be moving forward. Clancy said the old building was no longer adequate and the new church will allow the church to continue to grow.
They are not alone. Father Gollapalli said his parishioners have been looking forward to the groundbreaking since the old church property was sold to St. Bernard Medical Center two years ago. The former school and parish hall have already been torn down, but the parish was allowed to use the current 360-seat church through December.
“Losing the old church is kind of bittersweet for us,” he said. “It is a beautiful church. Nobody wants to lose that, but it happens to be an old church and maintaining the old church has been difficult. Now that we have (the) school here and church over there, it is not very practical.
“It is growth also. That land is locked. We don’t have much place to park. We are using parking from other places and now we have space here.”
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