An explosion of faith turned into a parish dream and it all became reality on Saturday for St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Wildwood.
St. Vincent de Paul held the first services in it new building on Saturday afternoon and about 1,600 parishioners attended the opening Mass, said Pastor Pedro (Peter) Puntal. It was so jammed that extra seats were made available in the choir area.
“This is a blessing from God for the community, the Villages and for our church” Puntal said, while standing outside the front entrance as dozens of parishioners walked by and wished him well.
“This building is the fulfillment of a 10-year old dream,” added Puntal, wearing a bright green vestment. “Today, the dream is real.”
A celebratory mood wafted throughout the immaculate and spiritual edifice. It might be described as a joyful spirit but the meaning went beyond bricks and mortar.
“A church is the people — not the building, but there’s a feeling here of being close to God,” said Margaret Remshaw, a parishioner who lives in the Village of St. James. “This building has been a long time coming.”
St. Vincent de Paul, located on CR 462 in Wildwood, will hold its official dedication on Aug. 27 at 6:30 p.m. with Bishop John Noonan of the Diocese of Orlando. Like many churches in The Villages, St. Vincent’s is growing at a rapid pace. It currently has about 3,000 families, Puntal said, adding that 550 families have joined in the past year.
The new building holds 1,000 people in the pews and about 600 others in chairs.
“This building in many ways is a response to the extreme growth in The Villages,” Puntal said. “People of retirement age can be very religious. They are aware of their own mortality and want to get closer to God.”
Joan Jordan came to church Saturday from the Village of Belvedere. “I’m just glad it’s bigger so they can fit more people inside,” she said. “This church is absolutely beautiful and it’s so much more comfortable. It’s a place we can all worship together in a religious spirit.”
St. Vincent de Paul does much more than meet the spiritual needs of Villagers. It serves the poor, children and young families in and around Sumter County. The church operates a food pantry and other local outreach programs, including medical help for those in need.
Puntal is thrilled with the new building but his spiritual goals are much higher. “We want to make the work of God more visible and accessible. We want all people of all ages to experience God’s love.”
More growth is planned for the future. Puntal said the church soon plans to purchase 10 acres of land just south of its current location. It will be used for an auditorium, classrooms, and a center for church activities. That purchase should be made within six months, he said.
“This is a vibrant, growing community and the church must keep pace with it,” said Puntal, who has been at St. Vincent’s for a little more than a year. The bigger building has enabled the church to cut back its Mass schedule and still meet the needs of parishioners. The new schedule is: Saturday at 4 and 6 p.m. and Sunday at 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and noon.
All who attended Saturday’s opening Mass seemed caught up in the spirit and joy of sharing their faith and a new home.
“We’re finally here.” Dawn DiNome, music director, said with a smile from the front of the altar just before the service began. Then she added an emphatic and loud: “yeah” and the congregation echoed that sentiment.