Omaha Parishioners Rejoice at Dedication of New Church


Archbishop Elden Francis Curtiss incenses the altar of the new St. James Church in Omaha during the dedication ceremony on Dec. 1. The liturgy drew nearly 700 people into the 22,000-square-foot building.
Photos by Lisa Schulte


Archbishop Curtiss places the Blessed Sacrament inside the tabernacle for the first time during the dedication ceremony. Looking on is Father Michael Grewe, pastor of St. James Parish.

By Lisa Schulte  The Catholic Voice

  If you build it, they will come.  And they did.  Nearly 700 parishioners of St. James Parish in Omaha came to the dedication of their new church on Dec. 1, 2002 the first Sunday of Advent.  They gathered in the candlelit old church for a "ceremony of gratitude" with Archbishop Elden Francis Curtiss before processing over to the bright new worship space.

  "It's a great day for St. James," said +Esther Peterson, a former St. James schoolteacher and a parishioner since the parish began in 1963.
  "After all these years it's so nice to have a church," said Marie Wolkow, a parishioner of St. James for the past 25 years.  Members of St. James Parish held their first Masses at nearby Boyd Elementary School in Omaha before a temporary church was completed in 1965.
  Parishioners have used the lower, walkout basement of the parish school gymnasium as their church for 37 years.  "These people have sacrificed a lot over the years for the educational programs and educational buildings, and so they had to wait," said Father Michael Grewe, pastor at St. James and vicar general of the Archdiocese of Omaha. "Finally their dream came true."

"Jesus is the cornerstone"

  Archbishop Curtiss presided at the liturgy, along with Father Grewe, Benedictine Father Raphael Walsh, associate pastor at St. James, and Augustinian Recollect Father James Brown, who is in residence at St. James. Also in attendance were priests of the Archdiocese of Omaha and the permanent deacons who serve the parish.  In a symbolic presentation, parishioners of St. James handed over of the church keys, deeds and building plans to Archbishop Curtiss before the 2 p.m. Mass. Making the presentations were +Jerry and Vicki Coon, +Joe Laferla, Kathy Strawhecker, Woody and Debbie Armentrout and Dave and Carol Beringer.

  During the dedication ceremony, the archbishop blessed the congregation and the walls of the church with holy water, and blessed and anointed of the main altar and church walls with Chrism. Incense filled the church while representatives of the parish dressed the altar and lit the altar, festival and pillar lights as a reminder that Christ is the light of the world.

  A 75-member choir from St. James Parish, under the direction of Jim Netusil, led the music for the two-and-a-half-hour celebration. They sang a variety of music, including a song for the Rite of Dedication written by Father Ron Noecker, pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Fort Calhoun.

  In his homily, Archbishop Curtiss praised the St. James parishioners for their community effort in making the new church a reality.  "Jesus is the cornerstone and you of St. James are the living building stones," he said. "Without the Eucharist, without the Scriptures, without the people of faith, this would only be an empty building."  He encouraged the people of St. James to share their new worship space with others, especially those in need.  "Pray that what we begin today will have repercussions throughout the city and beyond for decades to come," he said.

Community effort

  Planning for the new church, located at 9212 Tomahawk Blvd. in Omaha, began in 1999 with a two-phase capital campaign under the direction of Father Grewe. Ground was broken in 2001.  A fundraising campaign has resulted in $2.5 million. The total cost of the church is $5 million, according to Father Grewe.
  Zenon Beringer Mabrey Partners Inc. of Omaha designed the church and Lund-Ross Constructor of Omaha was the general contractor for the project.  "It's a great honor to do the church for a parish we've been members of for the past 33 years," said Dave Beringer, president of ZBM.  He said he felt more pressure on this particular project than on others because of his personal connection, but is pleased with the way it turned out.  Everyone involved with the construction of the church worked well together, and parishioners gave a lot of helpful input, he said. They wanted a "truly uplifting and inspiring" space and that's what they got, Beringer said.

Symbols and meaning

  The new St. James Church features both contemporary and traditional designs, which can be seen in the various stained glass windows. It is also evident in the layout of the church, which focuses on the altar.  A seashell theme, which ties the church to its patron, St. James the Greater, is incorporated into many aspects of the building, including the altar, the baptismal font and holy water fonts.  The crucifix also has special meaning to the parish. The six-foot-tall corpus used to hang on the chapel cross at Mount Michael Benedictine Abbey in Elkhorn before the chapel's renovation in 1995. Father Walsh, who served as abbot of Mount Michael Abbey from 1956 to 1988, knew of its storage at the abbey and purchased it to be used at St. James. Paul Kemp, a parishioner at St. James and an employee of Wood Specialties of Omaha, refinished and refurbished it.
  With the church's use of new technology in the sound system and geothermal heating system and its incorporation of both contemporary and traditional symbols, Archbishop Curtiss said, "this magnificent church will serve the next century and beyond."