Bishop Noonan blesses baptismal font at newly renovated St. John the Baptist Church in Dunnellon.

Celebration was the theme of the evening at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Dunnellon, on Friday, October 10 as parishioners gathered for the first time in their newly improved worship space.

Bishop John Noonan was present to celebrate a special Mass and bless the church’s new interior, including the baptismal font, which was relocated to a more suitable place in the narthex.

In his homily, Bishop Noonan thanked the parishioners for the loving care they have shown to the Lord’s house.

“This is God’s home, where you come to be nurtured by scripture and the gift of the Eucharist, where you come to encounter your savior,” Bishop Noonan told parishioners. “The Lord has given you the gift of being able to take care of His house.”

The Bishop also drew comparisons to the Church’s patron, St. John the Baptist, describing the small but mission-driven community as a “voice in the wilderness, preparing the way for the Lord.”

Mass had been celebrated in the Parish Center since June 9, when the parish began a major overhaul that included new flooring, lighting, and pews. The existing pews were shipped to churches in Haiti, the home country of Fr. Jean Desir, Pastor of St. John the Baptist.

“Everything inside was affected in some way,” said Walter Wells, a parishioner who volunteered on the 12-member Alive in Christ team that spearheaded the renovations. “We replaced all the pews and all the seats, painted the interior walls, and rehabbed the restrooms with new counters and mirrors.”

“Wells described the church’s original color scheme as “monochromatic green…green carpet, green pews, green chairs.”

“The new work brings in so much color,” he said. “This building is a celebration. Tonight we celebrate the transformation of a church into a very warm, very attractive place of worship.”

The project also included significant changes to the church narthex, including new tile and woodwork, much of it handmade by parishioner Joe Zack. In addition, a portion of the narthex ceiling was raised over the baptismal font to accentuate its significance.

“Fr. Jean Desir was visibly moved as he thanked his parishioners for the generous gifts of time, talent and treasure that made the renovations possible. “You can see the joy in my face. I am filled with joy tonight. This is the day the lord as made- let us rejoice in it!” he said.

Plans for the project took shape in 2010 with the launch of the Alive in Christ Campaign at the parish. Fr. Emmanuel Akalue served as Parochial Administrator at that time. He and his parish leadership decided that the church, which had undergone few repairs since its construction nearly 30 years ago, needed a thorough renovation in order to meet the demands of future growth.

Parishioners responded by generously pledging more than $644,000 to Alive in Christ to help fund the effort.

Fr. Akalue, now serving as Parochial Administrator of Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Palm Bay, was present for the celebration and described his first glimpse of the new church interior as “exilerating.”

“It’s a dream come true,” he said.

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