Little rock church restored at Saint Therese Parish

Friday, Jul. 16, 2010
Little rock church restored at Saint Therese Parish + Enlarge
Flora Garcia (left) and Lillian Romero clean the new altar in St. Therese of the Child Jesus' little rock church after its anointing with chrism oil by Bishop John C. Wester (far right.) To the left are Father Martin Diaz, pastor; Father Octavio Diaz from Apostales de la Palabra, who was visiting the diocese to present workshops; and the parochial vicar, Dominican Father Denis Reilly.
By Marie Mischel
Intermountain Catholic

MIDVALE – The restoration of St. Therese of the Child Jesus Parish’s original church has revealed a mystery for the pastor, Father Martin Diaz. Faint brownish paint on the arch above the center aisle outlines a shield with several cryptic images and the abbreviation PMT with a cross above the M. Underneath the shield are the words ‘Love is repaid by love only.’

The shield dates to 1928, the year the church was dedicated, "but no one can figure out the meaning of it," Fr. Diaz said.

Now known as the little rock church, the building was constructed of stone from the Wasatch mountains and has a capacity of about 100 people.

By the mid-1960s the congregation had outgrown the building, so Mass was moved to the parish hall while a new church was built. The little rock church became a social hall/meeting room and also was used for religious education classes. This was how Fr. Diaz saw it when he came to the parish in 2006. He was drawn to it nevertheless. "I immediately saw just such a beautiful little church and how it would be wonderful to have this as a place for daily Mass," he said. "But, you know, dreams."

Restoring the little rock church was impractical, Fr. Diaz believed, because at the time the larger church had not only the main altar but another in the Blessed Sacrament chapel that was used for daily Mass. Also, Fr. Diaz felt compelled to meet the commitment that Father Francisco Pires, his predecessor, had made to renovate the 50-year-old kitchen in the parish hall. In addition, the St. Therese food bank was in need of renovation and the parish once again was outgrowing its church. Fr. Diaz projected that a new church would be needed within five years.

A partnership with the Utah Food Bank provided funding to move that project forward. Then a fire severely damaged the interior of the ‘new’ church. The decision was made to build a larger church, while the capital campaign asked parishioners to fund not only that construction but also the kitchen’s renovation and restoration of the little rock church. All these projects now are completed.

The new church, although larger than the one it replaced, doesn’t have a secondary altar, so daily Mass now is celebrated in the little rock church on a mission-style altar that was dedicated on the Solemnity of St. Stephen by the Most Rev. John C. Wester, bishop of the Diocese of Salt Lake City.

"The altar is a symbol that people come together to gather around to be nourished by the Word and sacrament, to build our community that is this parish," Bishop Wester said during the dedication ceremony. "This altar also sends you forth to proclaim the mystery that Jesus is Lord."

Rather than being simply a piece of furniture, "this altar symbolizes Christ," he said. "The altar is very sacred to us. We treat it with a great sense of reverence."

Among those who attended the dedication Mass was Mary DaRonche, who was married in the little rock church on May 29, 1949. The building holds many memories of friends, family and priests, she said. "My children had their First Communions here, and Confirmations. The whole church to be restored is something marvelous. I wish my husband could have been here today to witness this." Her husband, Lou, is in an assisted living center.

The restoration grants Fr. Diaz his wish of regularly celebrating Mass in the little rock church, which also is used for smaller weddings, but he has a new dream: replacing the plain glass on the building’s east side with stained glass windows. "If I only had $70,000," he said with a laugh.

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