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St. Charles Borromeo

By Randy Grosse
The Catholic Voice

Even though his duties as pastor of the recently established [START] Parish don't begin in an official sense until mid-June, Father Norman Hunke already is developing building plans for the new parish in southwest Omaha.

But those plans aren't for a school or church. Father Hunke, who currently serves as pastor of St. Cecilia Parish and rector at the cathedral, said his focus for the new parish will be about "building a people."

A rectory, which will include living quarters for the pastor and office and meeting space, is being planned for the 20 acres of parish property near 192nd and Giles Road, but Father Hunke described that as just a necessity of starting up.

Before even considering any other buildings, Father Hunke said he wants to concentrate on the people. "I want to work on creating a sense of identity, a sense of ownership," he said.

That work will involve finding and developing leadership from among those becoming a part of the new parish. "We'll get a core group and pray, study and discern together the direction the parish should take and how," Father Hunke said.

Members of that group will then form their own groups as the parish leadership expands.

Father Hunke said he hopes to base those meetings on the U.S. bishops' letter on stewardship. He said that stewardship approach – sharing time, talent and treasure – from the very beginning of a new parish is a great opportunity.

From St. Stephen the Martyr

Much of the land – 80 to 90 percent – in the new parish, which is the first since St. Matthew in Bellevue was created in 1991, comes from St. Stephen the Martyr Parish. That parish is currently the largest in the archdiocese with 2,876 families and more than 11,609 parishioners.

Father Gregory Baxter, chancellor for the archdiocese, said the continued growth in the area demanded a new parish. "As the population of Omaha continues to expand to the west, new parishes are needed to meet the needs of Catholics," he said.

Other land comes from St. Patrick in Elkhorn and St. Patrick in Gretna.The new parish is bounded on the north by West Center Road from 180th to 240th, on the west by the Platte River from Cornhusker Road to Harrison Street and by 240th Street from Harrison to West Center, on the south by Cornhusker Road from the Platte River to 180th and on the east by 180th Street from Cornhusker Road to West Center Road.

Father Hunke said Father Jim Tiegs, pastor at St. Stephen the Martyr, has been very helpful.

Father Tiegs told The Catholic Voice he's emphasizing the positive with the start of the new parish.

"It's certainly not a negative thing," he said, "but a sign of the vitality of the church. We'll be supportive in any way we can."

About 280 St. Stephen the Martyr households (600 parishioners) fall within the boundaries of [START], said Father Tiegs, noting that most of the new parish's population will come from construction projected for that area.

While the land is being transferred from parish to parish, that doesn't mean all the people who live in that area will change parishes, Father Hunke said. A variety of factors could keep people at St. Stephen the Martyr, including children in the school, the level of involvement in the parish and family or other connections to St. Stephen.

Father Hunke said people who will consider the new parish are those who like the idea of being involved with something from the very beginning and who would like to be charter members of a parish. St. Stephen members, as well as those from other affected parishes, within the new parish boundaries with no specific ties to their current parishes also are likely to join, he said.

Because of the strong connection with St. Stephen the Martyr, Father Hunke said he will be at that parish the last two weekends of June, talking about the new parish and encouraging people to join if they live in that area.

First Mass in July

First Masses for the new parish are planned for the weekend of July 2-3. Just where remains an unknown, but that's one of the other details Father Hunke is attempting to finalize.

"We're hoping to use the new Millard school in that area on a regular basis," he said, "but it won't be available until September."

That means finding a "temporary" site for a couple of months. Father Hunke said another Millard school building is a possibility.

In addition to getting organized for those first Masses, Father Hunke is meeting with lawyers to sign off on papers of incorporation that create the legal entity of [START] Parish. He's also seeking some type of rental space for a temporary office until the rectory can be built.

"It's all very exciting, but also a bit scary," Father Hunke said. "There's no other experience quite like it for a pastor."

"Starting a new parish is not an easy task," said Father Baxter, "but Father Hunke is well prepared for the challenge."

The challenge of creating a new parish also means a significant change for Father Hunke. The priest of 32 years said he will miss the people of St. Cecilia Parish and "being at the heart of the church in the archdiocese."

While the cathedral often put him at center stage of the church, Father Hunke said the "new parish in the cornfield isn't any less important."

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