Evangelization, building boom make old parish new

It’s one of the oldest parishes in the archdiocese, but its parishioners are among the youngest. 
It’s also one of the largest parishes, but as St. Patrick Parish in Elkhorn celebrates its 150th anniversary, parishioners say its welcoming spirit, faith and service make it a close-knit and spirit-filled place.
“It’s unique,” said Father Thomas Fangman, pastor. “It’s one of the oldest parishes in the archdiocese at 150 years old, but it’s also the youngest in the diocese.”
The average age of St. Patrick’s 8,300 parishioners is 29; 38 percent of its families have been part of the parish fewer than five years; and about 47 percent of parishioners are under age 17, Father Fangman said. 
“There are new neighborhoods springing up all over. You don’t find that at too many parishes,” he said of growth the last several years along Omaha’s western edge. That city annexed Elkhorn 11 years ago.
“There’s been much growth in evangelization the last 10 years,” Father Fangman said. 
Just ask Sam McCumber, a former Methodist who joined the Catholic Church this year after sharing a table with Father Fangman during Alpha evangelization gatherings at the parish. While exploring the Christian faith, participants shared a meal and held small-group discussions.
“I married a cradle Catholic, that was definitely a big factor,” McCumber said of joining the church. His wife, Kelli, is the daughter of parish Alpha leaders Larry and Debbie Schroer. “But Alpha was the finger that pulled the trigger.”
McCumber said among their positive experiences were several members of Alpha quietly gleaning that they were struggling to have their first child, although they had kept that fact largely to themselves. Before long, a group member told them privately she’d been through the same thing, and she would be there as a support. 
Six months ago, the couple celebrated the birth of their daughter, Amelia Joy.
“Building those friendships and relationships with the Alpha group definitely drew me closer” to God, as well as to Kelli, McCumber said. 
Kolleen Benjamin also is among newcomers to St. Patrick, although she grew up there, and her family, the Quinns, were among the founding members of the parish. Her husband’s work brought them to Denver and Austin, Texas, before they returned to Elkhorn two years ago.  
It’s great to be back among family and friends, at Mass, with the parish school and other activities, she said. “My kids are sixth-generation Quinns,” Benjamin said. 
With different activities each month, the parish is celebrating its many generations of faith, its school serving 841 students and parish efforts to help meet people’s needs through the St. Vincent de Paul Society and other avenues. 
The festivities will include a 150th anniversary Mass at 4 p.m. Aug. 25 with Archbishop George J. Lucas, followed by a balloon release, a blessing at the bell tower and the annual parish festival. 
Parishioners are also participating in 150 specially-set-aside hours for adoration of the Eucharist, and a Christmas concert will help wrap up the festivities, said Michele Zadalis, who helped organize the anniversary events with fellow parishioner Kathy Moritz and others.  
Evelyn Rezac, 83, said that among other things, she appreciates the many close friendships that develop at the parish, to which she has belonged for 53 years.
Rezac plays the piano at weekend Masses. She was involved in her younger years with the Altar Society, and now watches other women do the same work around the church as part of Women of St. Patrick. 
“I am so happy these young, good-looking, vibrant women are doing an incredible job,” she said.
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