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Our Lady of the Angels begins another expansion

Bucking nationwide church attendance trends, Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church embarks on its second expansion in six years.

Christopher and Emmy Treston and Janice and Michael Novello look forward to the new parish activity center and rectory.
Christopher and Emmy Treston and Janice and Michael Novello look forward to the new parish activity center and rectory.
Photo by Liz Ramos
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Janice Novello remembers sitting at Living Lord Lutheran Church at 1 p.m. Feb. 7, 1999. 

She didn’t know many of the 50 or so people sitting around her during Our Lady of the Angels’ first Mass.

The Catholic church didn’t yet have a place to call home, so parishioners were leasing space from the Lutherans. 

But it wasn’t long before they outgrew that space. Novello remembers spending an Easter Mass sitting on the floor of the vestibule because they ran out of seats in the church. They got to the point where they started putting chairs in the parking lot and kept the doors open to accommodate everyone. 

Our Lady of the Angels went from being a church with a few hundred parishioners when it opened its first multipurpose church on White Eagle Boulevard in 2003, to a congregation of about 3,100 families that’s now in need of a new parish activity center and rectory to expand its services. 

The $9.7 million project is expected to take 12 to 16 months. The church will build a new 12,580-square-foot, one-story building that will house 10 rooms of various sizes for its ministries and programs. A two-unit rectory also will be constructed on campus for the priests who currently live nearby in Rosedale Country Club.

It’s an impressive project for any nonprofit organization, let alone a religious institution. 

But then consider this: nationwide, church membership among adults in the U.S. has fallen below 50%. According to a 2020 Gallup poll, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque. 

So, at a time when church membership and attendance is falling, how does Our Lady of the Angels explain its seam-busting growth?

Peter Grabowski, a member of Our Lady, says part of it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more vibrant a church, the more people it attracts. He says people seeing the church full of energy draws more people because they “want to be part of something special.”

Peter Grabowski has been a parishioner at Our Lady of the Angels since its inception.
Photo by Liz Ramos

Grabowski says the growing congregation is in stark contrast to the churches he sees in Connecticut, where he spends summers.

“In the Northeast, the churches are empty,” he says. “To be at a church that’s growing and vibrant and the pews are filled really makes it a much more spiritual place to be because there is a lot of energy. There is a sense of pride in seeing that none of us knew exactly what we were going to build to now having a beautiful church that’s filled all the time and we need more space.”

Another thing that makes Our Lady of the Angels different? In an area where new mega-churches appeal to today’s Christian congregants with more modern offerings, including ditching pews for comfy chairs and hymnals for live bands, the Catholic church offers a more traditional experience.

Novello says Our Lady of the Angels works to be timeless. The congregation keeps to the traditions of the Catholic church and the traditions Our Lady of the Angels has created, but it also isn’t afraid of trying new things. 

“We’re not set in our ways,” she said. “We start with our traditions, but then we try to expand so everybody has something they can find at the church.”

She says the liturgy of the faith forms the foundation of the church, which provides continuity from one generation to the next.

And, as she points out: “It’s lasted more than 2,000 years, so it must be doing something right.”

Of course, one large reason for the church’s growth can’t be overstated: The area’s growing population. Yet Our Lady of the Angels has kept pace by making sure it listens and responds to the community’s unique needs.

Michael Novello, Janice Novello’s husband, said as the church has grown, the number of ministers and Masses has increased. Our Lady of the Angels now has two priests, three visiting priests and four deacons. There are now seven Masses held each weekend. 

The church also has more than 47 ministries. The parish center and meeting rooms are constantly in use. Some ministries have to meet off campus due to the lack of available space. 

“The growth to me is a testament to how welcoming we are,” Christopher Treston said. “When we started, we had very few young people or children. We’ve grown into a multigenerational parish. There’s a ministry for just about anything you want … If you have Christianity in your heart, fellowship in your heart, love in your heart, there’s some place that’s right for you to join and participate in the church.”



Liz Ramos

Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.

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