by: Heather Osbourne, The Advocate
St. Pius X parishioners celebrated the groundbreaking Sunday for their new $19 million church, the first to be built in Lafayette since 1999.
At some weekend Masses, the pews of St. Pius X Catholic Church, 201 E. Bayou Parkway, have been filled to its 520-person capacity with another 100 or more parishioners standing, lining the walls of the church and overflowing into the vestibule area, according to the Rev. Steven LeBlanc, of St. Pius X.
Parishioners began expressing their concern over the growing need for a larger building at a church meeting in 2008.
In one of the largest parishes in the diocese with 2,776 families and 70 ministries, the St. Pius X faithful saw the need for a larger church after the addition of River Ranch development within its boundaries and the instillation of St. Pius Elementary in 2000 caused the church congregation to grow exponentially.
LeBlanc called the construction project a “monumental, historical undertaking,” but he said things kept happening, making it all seem possible.
One event was Acadiana Bottling Co.’s decision to sell a tract of land across the street from the church. St. Pius X purchased the 3.3 acres in the 600 block of Kaliste Saloom Road in 2013 for $1.8 million, and decided to build a new church instead of renovating the existing building, which was built more than 50 years ago.
“It seemed as though the Lord kept opening doors for this project to happen like the buying of that land years before it would have ever become available,” LeBlanc said.
In Nov. 2013, the St. Pius X building committee hired The Steier Group, of Omaha, Nebraska, to lead a fundraising program, which by June 2014 had raised over $5.4 million in pledges from parishioners. The Stuller Family Foundation followed by offering a dollar-for-dollar matching grant of $1 million. After continued fundraising, St. Pius was able to match the full grant, generating a cash total of about $7.5 million.
He said the agreement with the Stuller Family Foundation was to obtain the money when the church construction began. Scott Brazda, executive director for the foundation, said the check will be mailed soon.
“Father Steve is amazing, and his guidance and the person he is cemented our faith in this project,” Brazda said. “One of our core missions is Christian-based education and Christian churches, so this project was right up our alley.”
To cover the remaining $12 million for the project, St. Pius X took out a loan from the Cooperative Deposit and Loan Program through the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lafayette.
One of the main obstacles in building the church was the cost of construction, which was much higher than church officials originally estimated, LeBlanc said.
The diocese, though, came up with a financing structure for the parish so it could afford the higher cost.
“The diocese made it possible for the parish to undertake the project as it was designed, without having to remove some architectural features that really would have changed the look of it,” LeBlanc said.
One of the last pieces to come together for the project was in January 2015 when the church purchased Lippi Boulevard from the city-parish.
St. Pius X officials met with former city-parish President Joey Durel and other city officials, asking to buy the street that ran between the old campus and the new campus to create a pedestrian-friendly zone. The city-parish agreed to “abandon” the street and sell it to the church.
LeBlanc said the new land it acquired will make way for additional parking, the school’s expansion as well as additional office and meeting space through the repurposing of the old church building.
He signed a $14.3 million contract with JB Mouton Inc. on Feb. 24 to begin the construction of the 33,000-square-foot traditional-style church, which will combine French and Spanish architecture that represents the ancestry of the Acadiana region. It will seat about 900 people, making it one of the largest Catholic churches in the Diocese of Lafayette.
The church has purchased an organ for $300,000 and spent another $1,200,000 on liturgical appointments for the building once it’s completed.
The church also bought a baldacchino for $50,000 from a church that closed near Pittsburgh.
“It’s something that traditional churches in Rome have, like the big canopy structure over the main altar over St. Peter’s Basilica — that’s called a baldacchino,” LeBlanc said.
The estimated completion date for the project is fall 2017.
The groundbreaking Sunday was a moment for parishioners to celebrate.
“We’ve been planning this for a long time, so I’m very excited,” said 34-year-old St. Pius X parishioner Joy Best. “Our church is growing so fast, and there is no room for the new people that are coming in. … People are hungry today — they’re searching. They’re searching for Jesus.”
As part of Sunday’s ceremony, LeBlanc poured water and oil into the ground under the baptismal font location, buried a Bible underneath the ambo and also buried bread and wine underneath the altar location.
In addition, parishioners brought a container of dirt from their homes to symbolize their participation and ownership of the project.
“I’m excited today because we’re going to continue to have our praise and worship here in our current building, and we’re going to be able to see the church being built,” said Ron Hebert, a chairman for the St. Pius X building campaign committee.
“I’m excited for these parishioners,” added LeBlanc. “This is a dream of theirs that they’ve had, and I’ve really tried to facilitate them doing all that they need to do for their dream to become a reality.”