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People enter St. Patrick Catholic Church in Iowa City before the dedication Mass Nov. 29.

By Celine Klosterman

IOWA CITY — “It feels like home already,” Nan Nerad said.

There had been just one Mass in St. Patrick Parish’s new church as the parishioner shared that thought Nov. 29, but she and many of the other 1,600 people at the dedication liturgy had anticipated the celebration for years.

“We just can’t believe the time has come, that this is our church,” said Catherine Hurley, parish council secretary. “… Coming from the loss of our former church with the tornado, and being for so long in the church hall, it’s surreal that this spectacularly beautiful space is now ours.”

That space was made holy Sunday as its walls and altar were anointed; the church was sprinkled with holy water, and incense was burned.

“What was such a tragedy has turned out to be such a beautiful temple,” Bishop Martin Amos said, referring to the storm on Holy Thursday 2006, in which St. Patrick’s downtown church and rectory were reduced largely to rubble.

But as beautiful as the 49,000-square-foot building is, “it pales as the temple made of living stones talked about in the first letter of St. Peter,” Bishop Amos said during his homily. ‘“Let yourself,’ he says, ‘be built into a spiritual house.’”

“Our praise and our worship begin in this beautiful place, but cannot end here,” the bishop told parishioners, guests, Knights of Columbus and about 25 priests. “Beautiful as this church is, the real treasures will be those deeds done to the least.”

Elements from the former church were embraced for the dedication Mass. Students from the first Communion class of 2006 sang “Do This in Remembrance of Me” — a song they sang the night the tornado struck. And in the narthex, or entry area, a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that lost parts of its arms in the storm greeted Catholics.

For some parishioners, St. Patrick’s new building was the first parish church they’d worshipped in. “The parish hall was the St. Patrick’s we knew,” said Laurie Roehl, who joined the parish with husband Larry not long after the storm.

Over the past year the couple watched the new church be built from their house near the construction site. “It’s very nice to see it moved from downtown; we’re very excited to be part of it,” Laurie Roehl said.

The new building was the fourth church in the Davenport Diocese to be dedicated this year. On Jan. 31, St. Mary Parish in Fairfield will dedicate its new church.

Kevin Nerad, Nan’s husband, said the use of old elements in St. Patrick’s day chapel — whose bricks, pews, hanging lamps, ambo and altar came from the former church — “makes it extra special.”

The new building “is huge and has space for everything,” said Peter Rhomberg, 15, as he lounged on a couch near a big-screen TV and pool table in the youth room.

Meeting space was tight in the lower level of the parish hall downtown, noted Matt Lincoln, 16. “It’s nice to have our own place.” 

Kayla Balke, 17, voiced thanks that the hall allowed the parish to keep meeting together nonetheless over the past 3 1/2 years. “We wouldn’t have been as close without it.”

Father Rudolph Juarez, St. Patrick’s pastor, acknowledged the “joy” of completing the new church in a letter in the dedication booklet.  “On Good Friday, the day after the 2006 tornado, I said to you: ‘While things are sad and dark this day, remember this — Sunday’s a’ coming!’” he wrote. “Well, my good friends — Sunday’s a’ here!”

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