Our Parish History

St. Clare of Assisi Roman Catholic Church

Our parish history began when the area currently within our parish boundaries was part of three parishes: Santa Teresita Parish in El Mirage, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Sun City West and St. Anthony in Wickenburg. Fr. Moynihan, who was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes at that time arranged for the first Masses at Happy Trails Resort in 1988 on Saturdays at 4:00PM with about 30 people in their neighborhood center.  As time went on, Harold Madden and his cast of missionaries at Sun Village, Surprise, coordinated the addition of a 9:00AM Sunday Mass in Sun Village.  Fr. Jay Heneghan, retired priest from the state of Washington, was approached in 1990 and he agreed to say the 11AM Sunday Mass in a room at Arizona Traditions. Retired priests took care of the spiritual needs as the three communities started to build the local Catholic community and raise money for a new parish.  Some of the priests involved in those days were: Msgr. Moynihan, Msgr. John Burns, Fr. Matthew Feit, Fr. William Connor, Fr. Jarlath ("Fr. Jay") Heneghan, Msgr. Irvin Lampe, Fr. Gillespie, Fr. Ernest Engler, Fr. Mathew Plathottam, Fr. Shafer, Fr. Frank Connor. We have been blessed to have many other retired priests and others from the area who have served here at various times. I will include those up to the present in this list: Fr. Albert Mackert, Fr. Tom Quinn, Fr. Eldon McKamy, Fr. Greg Kotnis, Fr. Maynard Kegler, OMI, Fr. Peter Fransco, Fr. Edgar Schaefer, Fr. Michael Minogue, Fr. William Waldron, Fr. Thomas McEnnis, Fr. Pat Godley, Fr. William Knott, Fr. Ray Greco OSB, Fr. Bob Mann, Fr. Vincent Mesi OFM, Fr. Jerry Janski, Fr. Frank Simlik, Fr. Patrick O'Neill, Fr. Thomas Zurcher CSC, Fr. Richard Cisniewski, Fr Julian Reginato, Fr. Henry Dahl, Fr. David Ashbeck. The first deacons of the parish were Deacon James Marth and Deacon Stephen Martin and later came Deacon Donnan Lukaszewski, Deacon Ted Micek, Deacon Vince Torres, Deacon Joseph Badame, Deacon Joseph Wenzler, Deacon John Killian, Deacon David Opsahl, and Deacon Michael Pirylis.

All three neighborhood communities started bulging at the seams and were running out of space. Collections were sent to the Diocese of Phoenix which set up a meeting with Msgr. John McMahon, Joe Galano, Harold Madden and Charlie Keenan. The diocese purchased 12.5 acres at the corner of Bell Road and Cotton Lane. Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien authorized Harold Madden and Charles and Claire Keenan to open a separate account for the property fund. In the meatime, Msgr. John Burns dies and Fr. Matthew Feit was named the spiritual director. At this time, it is made known that there was a great need for a parish in and around Surprise that would serve the many young families moving into the area.

As the community grew, religious education programs were first developed by volunteers, Margaret Planeta and Teri Giancola of Surprise's Kingswood Parke and sessions for children were held in the home of Margaret and Mike Planeta with guidance from Fr. David Kelash, pastor of Santa Teresita Parish. Bob Marchant was in charge of ministries and Sharon Hansen assisted in directing a choir.

Most Reverend Thomas J. O’Brien, Bishop of Phoenix, held a meeting with local parishioners for the selection of a parish name. Parishioners suggested: Our Lady of Fatima, St. Mary Magdalen and St. Clare of Assisi. Bishop O'Brien chose the name, St. Clare of Assisi and established the parish on July 1, 2000. He appointed Fr. John Robert Coleman as the founding pastor and a home was purchased in West Bell Ranch community for the first priest residence which included a small office in the front room. Fr. Coleman, in an effort to build a strong parish community decided it would be best to bring the three community Masses to one location. For ten months, three weekend Masses were held at the Kingswood Parke Elementary School in Surprise. James Acker from Arizona Traditions was in charge of setting up and taking down chairs and altar every weekend at the school. Craig Colson was hired as music director and Margaret Planeta was hired as director of religious education. Religious education started immediately for grades 1 through 5 and classes were held every Sunday morning between Sunday Mass times. Pre-school was held during Mass.

Later, in the summer of 2001, two temporary modular buildings were placed on 12.5 acres owned by the Diocese of Phoenix at the corner of Bell Road and Cotton Lane. The original neighborhood communities, by means of their collections, were able to pay a large part of the cost of the land which was mostly left undeveloped with the northwest portion dedicated to the two modular buildings and a small paved parking lot and a small overflow gravel lot. The larger modular building seated 480 people for Mass and the smaller building became the offices and conference rooms and also served many other purposes including our religious education program. Youth programs were developed and led by various youth coordinators.

Fr. Hans P. Ruygt was appointed by Bishop O’Brien to lead the parish on July 1, 2002 and to carry out a building program. Thousands of parishioners rallied together to raise funds and to assess the needs of the parish. They determined that the first need was for a permanent church, and they conducted several capital campaigns. Neighborhood captains and team members canvassed the community to appeal for pledges to the building campaign. Meahwhile, parish forums were held in the modular parish hall building to design and set a budget for the first permanent building which would be a church. Bishop O'Brien decided that in order to meet the needs of an area exploding with new arrivals, the church should be built to handle a capacity seating of 2000 people. Several architectural firms worked over the years. An initial master plan was presented to the City of Surprise. It included the entire vision of a church, hall, parish office and an elementary school, plus parking.  We worked with Leo A Daly architects then switched to Bill Brown AIA and CCBG Architects and Steven J Schloeder AIA.

On August 12, 2006 after the feast of our patroness, St. Clare of Assisi, Most Reverend Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop of Phoenix, gathered the parishioners, with Fr. Coleman, Fr. Ruygt, and several others priests and deacons and civic leaders for the Blessing and Groundbreaking for the new church. Site work and grading were completed in 2007, and the parking lot was expanded. Construction on the church began in January 2008.

Meanwhile, the parish numbers grew rapidly reaching 2600 parish families, and over 500 children in the religious education programs for children and teens. Hundreds of people had to sit outside listening to ground speakers for Saturday and Sunday Masses on many weekends because they didn’t fit inside the church. 

It was a glorious day when parishioners moved into the new church and celebrated the first Mass on Christmas Eve 2008 at 4:00 pm. We had no permanent furnishings and no tile on the floor, but we finally had a roof over our heads and were able to accommodate the large crowds which often reached 1000+ people. The city limited us to seating 1400 people because parking will need to expand again before we can seat more people.

As the years went by, we continued to add to the adornments of the church interior with and altar, ambo, baptismal font and reredos behind the altar. When the basic permanent items such as the altar were installed we were able to didicate the altar and church. Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix was surrounded by many diocessan priests on April 11, 2010, the Sunday of Divine Mercy, the Octave of Easter for the glorious Mass of Dedication. The Rite of Dedication of a Church and Altar were celebrated with great solemnity.

First, the community gathered outside, at the front door of the church where representatives of the parish handed over the building to the chief shepherd of the Diocese of Phoenix, Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted. The group making the presentation compromised members of the Finance Council, Pastoral Council, Building Committee, Captial Campaign Leaders, the architect, liturgical consultant and building contractors. Then the pastor opened the doors for the bishop who invited all to enter. Robert Strahota directed the music of the entrance procession, Come, Worship the Lord. After the Gospel, the Litany of the Saints was sung, sacred relics of saints were deposited into the altar which was then sealed permanently. The founding pastor, Fr John Coleman and the new pastor, Fr Hans Ruygt, with gratitude and joy anointed the walls of the church with Holy Chrism. And Bishop Olmsted anointed and incensed the altar and was the main celebrant of the Mass. Candles were lighted at the altar and around the 12 consecration crosses on the walls, representing the twelve apostles. The lights of the church were turned on as Mass continued and the faithful processed forward for Holy Communion. All were sent forth to live the faith.

We thank everyone who contributed to the building design process, all the capital campaign leaders and teams and all who have helped to repay the loan. We look forward to the future when the church loan is paid off and we can build other much needed offices, meeting rooms, a parish hall and kitchen, a perpetual adoration chapel, and some day an elementary school.



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