TRINITY — In the middle of St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church, a sprawling worship center with statuesque windows and sand colored walls of block and tile, 2-year-old Callie Grimaudo ran joyous circles around her stuffed toy dog, giggling as though the parish was her playground.
The delight of one of St. Peter's tiniest parishioners is shared this weekend by the congregation, which is moving into its new 14,350-square-foot worship center just in time for Christmas.
"The area is growing so quickly," said Father Dennis Hughes, "and so are we."
The parish center at 12747 Interlaken Road, situated on 61 acres adjacent to Trinity Memorial Gardens, features an 8,000-square-foot main chapel that can accommodate 650 worshippers. It also houses a smaller private chapel, a choir room, offices, a kitchen and a nursery.
The facility, which will be blessed at today's 11 a.m. Mass, represents a remarkable milestone for a congregation that's barely 6 years old.
Hughes celebrated the first Masses for the budding Trinity congregation in January 2007 in the funeral chapel at Trinity Memorial Gardens. Other church events were held in Hughes' home.
"I've found that when people have the faith," said Hughes, "they will go wherever they need to go to suit their spiritual needs."
As the flock grew to about 200 families, the parish adopted a name: St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church. It established a home base at a storefront at the Trinity Village Shopping Center, where it conducted services, hosted prayer and religious education groups, even offered a food pantry for those in need.
But they needed a bigger, permanent home for the congregation, which now has more than 500 families. And after years of planning, crews broke ground in December 2011 on the new parish center.
Half of the building's $2.4 million construction price was covered by the Diocese of St. Petersburg, on the condition that the parish raise the other half. With help from an endowment from St. Ignatius of Antioch Catholic Church in Tarpon Springs, which gave to the church from their own building fund; a major donation from a local businessperson; and the contributions of St. Peter's many parishioners, they raised the money needed.
"At St. Peter we never felt like faces in the crowd, but like family," said Melissa Grimaudo of Odessa, who has attended St. Peter with husband Joe and daughter Callie for more than three years. "If we don't make a service, people ask, 'Where were you? We missed you.' We've never felt at home at any other church."
At the new parish center, the Grimaudos — both dentists who run All Smiles Tampa Bay Family and Cosmetic Dentistry in Land O'Lakes — hope that this family atmosphere will thrive in a parish center that will double as a spiritual center for their family.
"I grew up in the same church that my parents attended," said Joe Grimaudo. "I was baptized in the church and kept going after I left home. I want to give our daughter that same foundation at St. Peter."
Also excited about the parish center are David and Lorrin Baldwin, who attend St. Peter with daughter Alexandra, 11, and son Andrew, 8.
"Our daughter took First Communion at St. Peter," said David Baldwin. "She was the only child in her faith foundation class. Now she's in a class of 30."
"Andrew is an usher at the church," Lorrin added. "He makes sure that we're on time every Sunday morning, so he won't be late for his job."
Aside from raising their children in the church, both David and Lorrin Baldwin share a vested interest in St. Peter. Lorrin Baldwin is a teacher at Bishop Larkin Catholic School in Port Richey, where administrators have actively supported and helped to promote the new parish center. David Baldwin, the owner of Engraving Systems Support, is a financial officer at the church and spearheaded the capital campaign to build the center.
"I'm so excited about the center, it's shaping up to be beautiful," said David, smiling. "We've gotten bigger as a parish, and we need this space."
As David Baldwin stood at the center of the new parish center, he envisioned the Bible studies, the charitable efforts, the ceremonies that will take place at their new, enlarged facility.
"I've been looking at the blueprints for so long," he said, staring around him at the newly erected walls of St. Peter of Apostle Parish Center. "It is great to see the center finally exist."