St. Mark’s has essentially doubled its size to keep up with the Whitchurch-Stouffville community. Photo by Joshua Santos

Parish bucks the trend with expansion

By 
  • October 26, 2019

At a time when church attendance is declining, parishioners of St. Mark’s parish faced a good problem — their church was too small.

When the church opened in 1983 the Whitchurch-Stouffville area north of Toronto had a population of about 14,000 people. By 2016 it was 46,000 and, just like the town, the church was bursting at the seams. 

The growth spurt sparked an ambitious 15-month renovation project at the church that culminates Oct. 27 with a grand re-opening Mass with Cardinal Thomas Collins.

“This is a very positive thing for the community of Stouffville to be expanding the church,” said project manager Stephen Blommesteyn. ”Projects like these are generational. They come by once in a generation.”

They also come with bumps in the renovation road.

The project was originally budgeted at $3.3 million, but pastor Fr. Michael Hughes said “unexpected change orders” has pushed the expected final cost closer to $6 million. 

“We had a change of architects, we ran into some planning delays in the town here as well, and it’s taking longer than anticipated,” said Hughes.

Financing has come from the parish’s own capital fund-raising, as well as a loan from the Archdiocese of Toronto and support from the archdiocese-wide Family of Faith campaign that raised money for church projects.

Planning for the new church took five-and-a-half years before shovels were in the ground. 

“We were initially anticipating to do this over three phases, but thanks to the support of the cardinal and his administrative team downtown and the Family of Faith, that allowed us to take on everything and do it all in one sound sweep,” said Hughes.

For the past 15 months, Sunday Masses were held at St. Mark’s Elementary’s School gym and weekday Masses at St. Brendan’s School library. Over the summer months, the Stouffville Pentecostal Church opened its doors so St. Mark’s could celebrate Mass.

Hughes said a third of the population in Whitchurch-Stoufville is Catholic and the church simply did not have the capacity to host the growing community. Before making way for construction, there were about 1,200 parishioners for the three weekend Masses and Hughes hopes to soon see that number jump to 1,400.

With the expansion, the church is doubling its seating capacity to 650. It will feature nearly 6,000 square feet of new worship space, an unobstructed view of the altar, large windows for more natural light, a modernized nave with space for the choir, organ and other musical instruments, a higher ceiling, wider aisles for wheelchair access, a ramp into the basement and washrooms among other things.

“From an aesthetic perspective the church will become much more ‘Catholic looking,’ as we had a very low ceiling in the old church,” said Hughes. “Now with the new attached, expanded worship space,  which changes the footprint of the church from a rectangular shape to a cruciform one, there is a much greater sense of space and volume as the ceiling is twice as high.”

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