Newton parish breaks ground for church

By Benjamin Wideman | For The Compass | August 28, 2013

Completion of $2.4 million worship space anticipated by next spring

NEWTON — It’s not everyday Sr. Marlita Henseler picks up a shovel and starts digging.

But she didn’t mind getting her shoes a little dirty this time.

Fr. Tom Long, sacramental minister at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Newton, sprinkles holy water on a cross where a new church will be built. Also pictured is Franciscan Sr. Marlita Henseler, pastoral leader. This cross is from the former St. Wendel Church in Cleveland and will sit atop the cupola. (Submitted photo | For The Compass)
Fr. Tom Long, sacramental minister at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Newton, sprinkles holy water on a cross where a new church will be built. Also pictured is Franciscan Sr. Marlita Henseler, pastoral leader. This cross is from the former St. Wendel Church in Cleveland and will sit atop the cupola. (Submitted photo | For The Compass)

On July 31, Sr. Marlita and about 70 other people — many of whom also held shovels, eager to dig in — took part in a groundbreaking ceremony for a church being constructed at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Community in Newton, a rural town in Manitowoc County.

The parish was formed in 2000, and the following year, as part of Phase 1, construction began on the offices, social hall and other spaces that are currently being utilized for various activities. But, all along, Masses have been held in a gathering space, as opposed to a formal church.

That will soon change when the new church is completed in the spring of 2014. The wood-and-brick structure, which will be attached to the current building, is being built by Hamann Construction of Manitowoc.

“The community has had this dream for more than 10 years now,” said Sr. Marlita, parish director. “To have it being a reality now, it’s a real uplift to the spirit of St. Thomas and all of our parishioners.”

The groundbreaking ceremony, which comprises Phase 2 (the second and final phase), included five priests with ties to the church, including Fr. Tom Long, the church’s sacramental minister. Everyone who attended the event was invited to bring a shovel and help dig.

“It was wonderful to see so many people so excited about the new church,” said Sr. Marlita, noting that parishioners in attendance that night ranged in age from 2 months (Callen Brunner) to 94 (Ellie Hoban).

One of the most exciting features of the new church, Sr. Marlita said, is that it will incorporate artifacts from the four previous parishes that combined to form St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Community. Some of those items include pews, statues, stained glass, a cross, the main crucifix and a tabernacle.

To see the new church being built “is the culmination of two years of intense work with regard to the capital campaign,” Sr. Marlita said. “It’s a joyous occasion.”

She said the community received approval to build the church after raising 75 percent (in donations or pledges) of the $2.4 million total cost. The remaining amount will be paid for via a loan.

She said it’s vitally important to have a formal church in which to hold Mass and other events.

“Having an actual church speaks to who we are in giving praise to the Lord in an honorable place,” Sr. Marlita said. “It’s a permanent place to gather as a community and worship the Lord.”

The church will have a seating capacity of 465 people. “It’s not going to be huge, but it will be adequate,” she said. “And there will be room for growth.”

Currently, there are 630 units, meaning individuals or families, at the church. That number has remained steady over the years, said Sr. Marlita.

She noted that about 20 percent of the total parishioners are Hispanic — that’s about twice the percentage as when she first arrived at St. Thomas four years ago.

Fr. Bill Ribbens, a 78-year-old Norbertine priest, celebrates Masses in Spanish at St. Thomas at 1 p.m. on Sundays. He also oversees at weddings, quinceañeras and other events in which a Spanish-speaking leader would be beneficial.

“It’s a working goal of ours to continue to integrate the parish,” said Sr. Marlita. Although many of the Hispanic parishioners in high school speak English fluently, a fair number of their parents aren’t quite as fluent, she added.

Bilingual Masses are held occasionally throughout the year, the most recent taking place in July.

Sr. Marlita said she’s looking forward to next spring, when all of the Masses will be held in the new church.

“The inside is going to look very similar to St. John the Baptist in Howard,” Sr. Marlita said, pointing out pews will somewhat wrap around an altar that projects outward.

“There has been a spirit of hope and anticipation for this to be built, and now it’s happening,” she said. “It really enlivens the community. We’re very excited about everything that’s happening here.”

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