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A place to pray... finally

$14-M St. Gianna Berra Molla church a spiritual home for 400 Catholic families

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Faith .Rev. Darren Gurr can't wait to doff the hardhat and safety gear for his first service at brand-new St. Gianna Berra Molla in Whyte Ridge.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Faith .Rev. Darren Gurr can't wait to doff the hardhat and safety gear for his first service at brand-new St. Gianna Berra Molla in Whyte Ridge. Photo Store

This weekend, an ancient way of worship blends with contemporary architecture as a Winnipeg Catholic church celebrates mass in its own building for the first time.

After a decade of worshipping in a rented school gym, parishioners of St. Gianna Beretta Molla Roman Catholic Church in Whyte Ridge will sing and pray in their curved building with an antiphonal sanctuary, a glass-bottomed baptismal font, and statutes of two pregnant saints.

"This building is loaded with theological symbols," explains Rev. Darren Gurr about the nearly completed $14-million church at 15 Columbia Dr.

Gurr celebrates the first mass today at 4:30 p.m. and again at 10 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 17. The official opening is Sunday, Sept. 7.

"This is actually an ancient style of worship," Gurr says of the circular sanctuary, where he will preside from a small, oval-shaped platform at the tip of two arcs of interlocking chairs.

"You get that call-and-response (effect) so you get conscious, full, and active participation."

The 500-seat liturgical space is surrounded by two corridors, featuring the stations of the cross. It also provides access to a confessional and a shrine to St. Gianna, who was elevated to sainthood in 2004.

St. Gianna was an Italian physician who developed a uterine tumour during her fourth pregnancy. She died in 1962, just days after giving birth to a healthy baby. Molla was canonized as a saint in 2004.

The parish has commissioned Texas sculptor John Collier, the artist behind the Catholic memorial at New York City’s Ground Zero, to create a bronze statue of Molla in mid-pregnancy. Collier is also crafting a bronze statue of a pregnant Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ.

Collier has already completed the apple tree/burning bush statue for the church’s perpetual adoration chapel, which will soon be open for around-the-clock prayer.

"This is the first (chapel) in the Archdiocese of Winnipeg built for perpetual adoration," says Gurr. Holy Cross parish in the Archdiocese of Saint Boniface has converted a room in a former rectory into a perpetual adoration chapel.

"It’s a devotion that has become central in the life of the church."

The 19,000-square foot building also features a lower-level columbarium, directly below the glass-bottomed baptismal font, connecting the newly baptized with those who have gone before. The columbarium has more than 2,000 granite niches for cremated remains.

"When we’re baptizing, we’re baptizing into the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and there is no distinction between life and death," explains Gurr of the theology behind the font’s location.

Located at the edge of a newer suburb and ringed by big-box stores, the building is designed to bridge the space between residential and commercial, and connect daily life with the spiritual, says architect Michael Boreskie.

"We’re trying to provide an opportunity to experience religious life differently than they may have (before) and seek insights into new experiences," says Boreskie, a Roman Catholic who has designed churches for nine Christian denominations.

"It’s not static space."

Although worship is scheduled for this weekend, some finishing touches won’t be finished, says Gurr who has juggled construction delays with lease deadlines. Yet the former rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral hopes his days of wearing a hard hat and steel-toed boots over his clerical garb nearly done, so he can resume the work of growing the 400-family parish.

"I don’t feel like it’s over. I’m just ready to begin," says Gurr of the 10-year-journey to plan and build the parish and the building.

"I just got my new workshop in order."

brenda@suderman.com

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