TRINITY — The Rev. Dennis Hughes was told he'd be lucky to get half of his parish's families to pledge to their fundraising efforts to build a new worship center, but his faith was greater than that.
His goal was 300 of the 475 registered families. He raised eyebrows from the gentleman hired to handle St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church's capital campaign.
"We had 377 families participate," he said proudly one recent morning.
That's 79 percent.
"We have been very much amazed and edified by the generosity of people," said Hughes, who has spent nearly five years leading and growing the new parish without a permanent home.
Additionally, there were a few large separate donations, including a sizable one from St. Ignatius of Antioch in Tarpon Springs under the leadership of the Rev. Joseph Pellegrino, who decided to donate a savings account that had been started in the 1980s to fund a mission in the East Lake area that was never started.
"That was a fortuitous surprise," Hughes said.
All that generosity brought St. Peter the Apostle to more than the 50 percent construction funding requirement for the Diocese of St. Petersburg to green-light the project. And the day they have prayed about for years is upon them: ground breaking on a home of their own. The ceremony will be held at 2:30 p.m. Sunday on 40 acres the diocese owns on Community Drive between Trinity Memorial Gardens and Odessa Elementary School.
"When we found out about a ground breaking being scheduled, I just about jumped out of my skin," said parishioner Mary Anne McCarthy, who serves on St. Peter's building and finance committees.
The excitement is widespread.
"This will be my best Christmas present digging that first shovel of dirt," said Kevin Hansut, church director of faith formation, who has been very involved in the planning.
The capital campaign's theme was "Built on Living Stones," based on St. Peter's first letter in the New Testament. To mark the progress of the fundraising, the church used a clear tube and filled it with stones as pledges were made.
"Our tube overflowed," Hughes said.
Permits have been submitted to Pasco County and construction likely will begin in early 2012. By next Christmas, said Hughes, the parish should be in its new home.
Back in 2007, Bishop Robert Lynch appointed Hughes as the priest-in-charge of a new parish in Trinity. The diocese bought a house in Longleaf where a temporary office was set up (now it's Hughes' residence). He celebrated the first Masses on Jan. 5 and 6, 2007 in Trinity Memorial Gardens' funeral chapel. About 200 people attended.
By the summer of 2009, the church had outgrown the funeral home chapel, and moved into a storefront in Trinity Village Shopping Center at State Road 54 and Duck Slough Boulevard, where the parish remains today.
No window coverings obstruct the view to the 5,000-square-foot worship center inside. Gray cushioned chairs are lined up around much of the space instead of traditional wooden pews. Dividers separate the church office and storage areas from the sanctuary. Tapestries are strategically placed in an attempt to hide items such as a refrigerator during religious services. Even the altar isn't of the usual variety. It was made by a deacon from another parish and completely folds up into itself for easier moving.
"It's heavy but you can pick it up and carry it out and that's what we will do," Hughes said, adding that almost all of the furniture will be recycled and added to in the new parish center.
Due to cost concerns, the new building will be more of a meeting hall than a traditional church.
"This community has to be bigger before we embark on that," Hughes said.
At 12,000 square feet, the hall will be more than twice as big as their current space and will have enough room for 650 people to worship at a time. The added space will also allow them to offer more ministries and grow their church community. The new parish center also will have designated office space and even a small chapel, but they will forgo stained glass and any other frills, the pastor said.
"It will be a very welcoming environment to celebrate the Eucharist," said Hughes. "I tell the community from time to time, the building is not the church. They are the church… and we've been building that church since we started."