This morning, St Peter Claver Catholic Church in Lexington, Kentucky will make a significant step in their journey toward rebuilding their church, celebrating a groundbreaking with Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv. following their 10am Mass.
The news was announced on social media late last week, including by Stowe himself, who shared the parish’s mini-documentary from earlier this year highlighting their capital campaign.
Sunday’s event will also celebrate the parish’s feast day, which occurred on September 9th and makes for a holy weekend within the Black Catholic community.
For the SPC faithful, it also marks a watershed moment in their parish history, preceded by the demolition of their former building in 2015. Founded for Lexington’s Black Catholics in 1887, SPC had moved into that edifice in the late 1940s.
“The basement underneath the church proper would flood every time it rained heavily,” said parishioner Jerry Cheatham in a diocesan newspaper piece in April.
“The congregation was outgrowing the sanctuary.”
A November 2015 story from local ABC affiliate WTVQ noted that construction was hoped to begin the following spring, following the completion of the parish’s new St Martin DePorres Education Center that same year.
Instead, it has had to wait.
“It’s been a 15-year effort so far,” Cheatham said, referring to the beginnings of the planning process.
The community has worshipped in their parish hall since the demolition, but that hasn’t stopped the growth of the parish, its ministries, or its hope for the future.
“All of the churches in the diocese are great, but very few have that family feel to them,” said Brennan Carpenter, who came to SPC in 2016 and currently serves as their digital communications manager.
Fr Norman Fischer, who has pastored SPC for over 16 years, spoke with BCM over the summer about the project, noting that the parish is also known for its expansive connection to the local community.
“We have Congolese refugees having Mass in Swahili, and recently Latinos have joined us,” he said.
“We have tons of non-member support in the local community. I call them ‘Friends of St Peter Claver’.”
The parish also held a prayer rally for racial justice with Bishop Stowe last year in June, following the murder of George Floyd. A year later, they hosted a vaccination clinic.
As such, Fischer summed up the parish ethos quite simply, saying they aim to be “a place of welcome”—an effort that will by all means be helped by having a church building once again.
“We are ‘the little church with a big heart’,” he said.
“And getting bigger.”
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).