The ground where Holy Savior Catholic Church stands is “hallowed ground,” says Michelle Crigler.
It will be bittersweet to see the structure at 13th and Chautauqua demolished, she said, but the church’s history will be retained as a new church is built on that ground.
“This is going to be a real chance for growth and evangelization,” said Crigler, who grew up attending Holy Savior. “Really, that’s the purpose of the church. … It will be a tool that will draw people. It is a tool for evangelization."
On Sunday, parishioners celebrated their final Mass in the current Holy Savior building. Afterward, they broke ground for a $10 million project to build a new church and school. When the first stage of the project is completed in around 16 months, the church will have seating for more than 500 people (the current church seats 275) and will be on the same campus as a new 28,000-square-foot school for children pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.
The school will have larger classrooms and the capacity to serve about 300 children.
Holy Savior is the first parish to break ground on a new church in the diocese since 2008. It also is one of the most racially diverse churches in the diocese.
The current Holy Savior Catholic Church was built in the 1940s. About one-third of the building had to be demolished several years ago due to mold. The space is so limited that the parish school is more than a mile away.
Josh Rosales, who has attended Holy Savior since 2011, said he was attracted to the church because of the diversity and the community. There’s also more soul in the music than at your average Catholic church, he said, drawing on the parish’s African-American heritage.
“A lot of churches are closing down, and you don’t really see new churches being built,” Rosales said. “I think it sends a positive message of growth.”
Holy Savior is about 60 percent African or African-American, with large percentages of Latino, Vietnamese and other members, said the Rev. James Billinger, the church’s pastor.
Billinger told a story of Bishop Carl Kemme’s visit to the church about two years ago. Kemme said then that if the Holy Father Pope Francis ever visited Wichita, he would probably bring him to Holy Savior “because of the diversity, the joy and the hospitality.”
In an emailed statement, Kemme said the building of a new church and academy “means that a vibrant ministry of worship, service and education to a largely African American community and others on the peripheries of our city will continue for years and years to come.”
“It is my hope that this project will further the work of evangelization and missionary discipleship as called for in recent years by Pope Francis,” Kemme said.
Moving to a new church will also offer an opportunity to reflect on Holy Savior's past, Crigler said.
Crigler’s grandparents were among the founding members of St. Peter Claver, the first African-American Catholic church in the diocese. Crigler was baptized there, before the church was closed in order to integrate with Holy Savior.
For the year of construction, congregants from Holy Savior will move back to St. Peter Claver at 1209 Indiana.
“I think it is significant and beautiful that we're going to celebrate Mass at Peter Claver for a while, so we can go home and go back to those roots before going into the future,” Crigler said.
About three years ago, a capital campaign began to raise funds. After the first phase of the project, a $3.5 million to $4 million gymnasium will be added.
The church has purchased 11 properties across Chautauqua that will become part of the campus. More space will allow for a nearly full-sized soccer field, a playground and a safer drive with drop-off zones for the school.
Having more space in the school is important, particularly in an underserved community, Billinger said. Currently, about two-thirds of the children at the school are not Catholic. Many are racial and ethnic minorities.
“We hope that we will fill up the school very, very quickly with children from the neighborhood,” Billinger said. “One of the National Catholic Education Association presidents said we don’t educate kids because they’re Catholic, we educate kids because we are Catholic. … We believe the greatest gift we can give minority children is an education.”
Lorena McClish is also excited to see more children in the neighborhood attend the school. She started attending the church after enrolling her son in Holy Savior Catholic Academy.
It will be hard to wait for the new school and church, she said.
"It’s kind of like a dream, and it’s not a dream anymore," McClish said. "It’s becoming a reality. It's really going to happen."