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'St. Andrew Catholic Church in Sumner welcomes sanctuary

Church serves as 'teacher of our faith'

August 07, 1999

Steve Maynard; The News Tribune

With its cross and cupola rising above downtown, Sumner's newest landmark is a striking beacon of religious imagery.

And the $4.2 million sanctuary for St. Andrew Catholic Church also meets an immediate physical need.

Members of the growing, 1,150-family Catholic community long ago outgrew their old, 260-seat sanctuary. They now have room for everyone to sit down at weekend Mass.

Nearly a decade in the planning, the 640-seat, beige church will open with a Mass tonight and one Sunday morning.

"We've waited a long time for this magnificent thing to be built," said Arlene Evavold, vice president of the parish council. "It's a wonderful house of worship."

The building at 1401 Valley Ave. is the first new Catholic sanctuary in Pierce County since the 1970s. A worship facility is to be completed in November at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church in Lakewood.

Catholic churches also have been built since 1996 in Federal Way and Black Diamond in South King County to catch up with the growth of the Catholic church, the state's largest religious group with more than 500,000 members.

St. Andrew members carefully planned the new sanctuary, from the 60-foot-tall copper cupola and cross - which is visible for miles - to the hand-carved, Western maple altar and lectern.

The cream-colored, spacious interior is filled with religious symbols - the cross at front, with a bronze crucifix; the wood sculpture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on one side; a replica of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the other; and the baptismal font at the entrance, with hand-painted tiles telling the biblical story of salvation.

The 10-foot-tall exterior doors are of a sculpted image of Jesus and three children. The image was created by Cuban-born sculptor Tomas Oliva Jr. in bonded bronze casting. Oliva's final mahogany sculpture is to be installed Wednesday.

"We tried to do this theologically as best we could," said the Rev. Tom Belleque, pastor of St. Andrew Catholic Church.

"We want the building to be a teacher of our faith," he said. "The building helps teach us who we are as Christian people."

The symbols tell of resurrection, reconciliation and more. A stained-glass window near the altar, depicting a foot-washing, symbolizes being a servant.

Even the shape of the 13,000-square-foot building is symbolic. The traditional cross shape, formed below the cupola from steel beams and arches, dates back to the fourth century. The semicircle interior lets parishioners see one another while worshipping, promoting the sense of community, Belleque said.

"They wanted to make sure it would be easily identified as a church," Belleque said of his parishioners, who praise him for his giving leadership. "They wanted to bring something very beautiful to the city of Sumner. It's our hope that we've met that goal."

The sanctuary was designed by Merritt + Pardini Architects of Tacoma and built by Absher Construction Co. of Puyallup.

The new sanctuary began with a vision for the future from the parish council 10 years ago. Carl Vigna was president of the group back then. Committees started planning and money was raised. Construction began 13 months ago.

Vigna, a retired architect who worked for The Boeing Co., saw his parish through the planning and construction as project manager.

"This is our best shot," said Vigna, 75. "We wanted to take that extra step to make sure it's something we're proud out. I think we achieved that."

The parish has raised more than $1 million in pledges so far to pay for the project. It also borrowed $1.77 million from the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle and is selling some land.

Additional construction is in the planning stages for the 12-acre site. For now, the parish will continue to use its social hall, classrooms and offices at 704 Kincaid Ave., where the old sanctuary is located. The new sanctuary is about a half-mile northeast of the old building.

At the old sanctuary, the church had five weekend Masses - with 40 people standing in back and outside for nearly every Mass.

"We've just way overgrown our space," said Carol Guenther, the church's pastoral associate.

The parish is made up of about 850 English-speaking and 300 Spanish-speaking families. The community draws Spanish-speaking people from throughout eastern Pierce County. Belleque celebrates Mass in Spanish every Saturday at 7 p.m. The bulk of the congregation comes from Sumner, Bonney Lake and the north and south hills of Puyallup.

The parish has many longtime members but also many young families - people in their late 20s and 30s with young children - who have joined the church in the past five years, Belleque said.

The priest said the parish has grown at a slower rate than the population in the Sumner area. But he expects its growth to soar with the new building.

Because now, there is plenty of space in which to sit and appreciate the view.

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* Staff writer Steve Maynard covers religion. Reach him at 253-597-8647 or

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SIDEBAR: First Mass today

The first Masses at the new St. Andrew Catholic Church in Sumner will be celebrated today and Sunday.

Masses in English will be at 5 p.m. today and at 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. There will be a Mass in Spanish at 7 tonight.

The sanctuary at 1401 Valley Ave. will be dedicated at the 10:30 a.m. Mass on Aug. 29 with Seattle Archbishop Alex Brunett as the presider. An open house will take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 21 with tours and refreshments.

For more information, call the church at 253-863-2253.

© The News Tribune

      The New Media Division of The News Tribune     © 1999 Tacoma News Inc.
      1950 South State Street, Tacoma, Washington, 98405,   253-597-8742.

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