Elmira parish center opens - Catholic Courier

Elmira parish center opens

With the opening of its new parish center, a proud era has begun for Ss. Peter and Paul Parish — and eastern Elmira as a whole.

Dedication of the center took place Sunday, Dec. 26, following the 11 a.m. Mass at Ss. Peter and Paul Church. Located on High Street across from the church, the center features a gymnasium that will accommodate the parish’s Catholic Youth Organization basketball games. The handicapped-accessible facility will host numerous other parish events such as weekly coffee hours, and can also be used for such public gatherings as banquets and receptions.

Another of the center’s major components is a wing housing the Elmira Free Community Kitchen, which served its first meal Monday, Jan. 17. This independent outreach ministry, which operates on volunteer and donated support, has a new dining area, kitchen and equipment.

“It’s really a beautiful facility,” said Kathy Dubel, a Ss. Peter and Paul parishioner who serves as the kitchen’s volunteer director. She said the kitchen “will be able to seat in comfort about 125 guests,” with the gym to be used for special events.

Elmira Free Community Kitchen is open for evening meals from 4 to 5:30 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, as well as for lunch from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. It also serves special holiday meals on Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving. According to Dubel, the kitchen provides between 85 and 110 meals on an average day and nearly 20,000 annually.

More than 100 people — from a variety of civic organizations and religious denominations — volunteer to work at the kitchen each month. A Protestant community, Trinity Episcopal Church on North Main Street, served as temporary headquarters for the kitchen during construction of Ss. Peter and Paul’s parish center.

“Trinity has been very warm and welcoming, basically letting us take over their dining room and kitchen the past two years,” Dubel said, praising the church’s pastor, the Rev. Bill Lutz.

At this point, only one major aspect of the parish center remains unfinished. The wooden gymnasium floor was not to be laid down until late January, with its first available use to be sometime in February.

The center pays homage to two former east-side churches. In the main entrance, an original window and outside lights from St. John the Baptist Church are on display. Also near the entranceway is a statue of the Sacred Heart from St. Cecilia’s Church.

St. John’s and St. Cecilia’s both closed in 1998. They, along with Ss. Peter and Paul, made up what was known as the Eastside Catholic Parish cluster. A logo for the gym floor features the names of patron saints from all three churches.

Construction of the parish center began in May 2004, with Streeter Associates Inc. of Elmira serving as the project’s construction firm. The center’s predecessor on that site, the former Ss. Peter and Paul school building — which had housed the Free Community Kitchen since its founding in 1981 — had been demolished in early 2003.

According to Father Patrick Connor, who recently concluded his term as pastor of Ss. Peter and Paul, most of the $1.1 million construction cost has been realized through parish fundraising, community grants, and the sales of St. Cecilia and St. John the Baptist. He added that donations toward the project are still needed, and may be sent to Ss. Peter and Paul Parish, 161 High St., Elmira, NY 14901.

Dubel, who is also justice-and-peace coordinator for Catholic Charities of the Southern Tier, said the Free Community Kitchen has raised about 75 percent of its own $50,000 start-up costs. Additional donations for new equipment and operating expenses may be sent to Elmira Free Community Kitchen, 215 E. Church St., Elmira, NY 14901.

The new building represents a community-minded effort, said Michael Gehl, who served on several committees connected with the project.

“Living up to our mission to serve those in need — the new parish center will allow us to do just that,” said Gehl, who is also director of Catholic Charities of Schuyler County.

Father Connor said dedicating the center on the Feast of the Holy Family, Dec. 26, was quite appropriate. “We see it as a facility that will enhance family life,” he remarked.

One of the center’s first events was a Dec. 29 going-away party in honor of Father Connor, who oversaw Ss. Peter and Paul for 12{1/2} years. (Father Connor was profiled in the Dec. 18-19, 2004, Southern Tier weekly edition of the Courier.) The center also hosted coffee hours after Masses on Jan. 2, marking the priest’s final Sunday at the parish before leaving on sabbatical.

“It kind of brings a sense of completeness,” Father Connor said. “I have a sense that a lot of good will come out of this facility and set well with the parishioners. They have gone through a lot of sacrifices.”

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