An estimated 2,300 people attended the jubilant dedication ceremony Saturday, Feb. 9, of the expansion of St. Thomas More Catholic Church. Churchgoers began to raise money to expand the church in 2008 with the encouragement from the Rev. Don Henry, who had a vision of expanding the church.
“Everything we have today was built and given by those parishioners who came before us, and when we grew from a parish of 600 families to 2,600 families, it was clearly evident we needed to enlarge our worship space,” said Director of Operations Jim Selinsky.
Members had a three-year period to raise enough money to expand the church. Because of the recession in 2008, the church was granted an extra year to raise funds. Parish members raised $6 million from fundraisers and individual donations, making the church free of mortgage debt.
The church that once seated 750 people now seats 1,850 people. In addition to more space, the 1984 plumbing, electrical, heating and air conditioning systems were updated. The church ordered an Italian-made Ruffatti organ and even installed a hearing-loop system. The hearing-loop system allows members wearing hearing aides with a T-coil to hear what is being said through the microphone. The original church was designed in a contemporary style by architect Carl Abbot. Architecture firms Julian Norman-Webb and Cobrooke designed the expansion of the church, and Willis A. Smith Construction Inc. built the structure.
St. Thomas More was first established as a mission church of Incarnation Parish in Sarasota Sept. 16, 1979, and held its first service in the cafeteria of Gulf Gate Elementary Oct. 6, 1979. The permanent church was built five years later with the first Mass being held at sunrise on Easter 1984. Parishioners stood in the roofless church on an unfinished earth floor that first Mass.
Today, hundreds of parishioners listened to the liturgy in that same church except now it has more than 5,000 members. The Most Rev. Frank J. Dewane, bishop of the Diocese of Venice, invited the Most Rev. John. G. Noonan, bishop of Orlando, to take his place presiding over the dedication ceremony due to an illness. An additional 20 visiting priests concelebrated the rituals and prayers that date back millenniums.
“It was a beautiful and jubilant celebration that is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many,” Selinsky said.
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