This article is the first in a review series for the year 2016 in the Diocese of Helena.
On October 23, 2016 Bishop Thomas celebrated the Rite of Dedication of a Church at Resurrection University Parish’s newly constructed church in Bozeman.
The new space filled to overflowing as visiting priests, relatives of parishioners and Catholics from across the diocese participated in the Mass and reception.
Resurrection parishioners have gathered for fellowship in a multipurpose space, dedicated primarily to Campus Ministry for many years. While Campus Ministry is at the heart of the parish’s mission, the new building will accommodate recent parish growth and serve the needs of future generations.
Bishop Raymond G. Hunthausen established what is now Resurrection Parish as a Newman Center in September of 1965, officially recognizing Resurrection as a parish in 1974. Hunthausen’s appointment as Archbishop of Seattle in 1975 coincided with construction of a Parish/Campus Ministry Multipurpose Facility that is now a gathering space for the new church.
The stand alone multipurpose design accommodated dining, as well as large and small group gatherings. Seating for Mass topped out around 225 compared to 650 in the new church. Capacity crowd seating can now reach 945 with both spaces in use. The old space continued to serve the needs of the congregation but steady growth at Montana State University and an increase in regular parishioners presented challenges.
“The journey towards a new church space began about 10-15 years ago,” recalls Diane Dwyer. Dwyer’s 41 years at the parish most recently include roles as the Pastoral Associate, Choir Director, and Director of Religious Education. “At that point we realized that we were overflowing at the seams, and that began our planning for a new space.”
The diocese was between bishops though, meaning no new projects could get off the ground. As the transition period ended, the diocese welcomed newly appointed bishop, George Leo Thomas, in 2004. Thomas installed Fr. Val Zdilla as Resurrection’s Pastor in 2006.
Fr. Zdilla grew up near Pittsburg, Pa. and moved to Los Angeles shortly after high school. He spent his 20s working and traveling. “I learned about service, hospitality, different cultures and religions, and shed some prejudices” he recalled. “It really opened my eyes up to the world. I realized, and believe, if we don’t know the other we can fear the other.” Although he was successful, busy and had many friends, he felt an empty space in his life. He said, “On Palm Sunday I found myself wondering what was missing. I had to go through everything; not money, not companionship. I had to go back to church.” His journey back to faith reignited earlier thoughts of vocation to the priesthood. He began priestly formation and was ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles on June 1, 1996. During seminary, Catholic friends with Montana roots invited him to Polson during breaks from his studies. His trips to Montana continued after ordination and he felt drawn to relocate, saying, “I loved my time in Los Angeles, but always had a sense that I would go back to the country.”
Partway through a two-year assignment to the Diocese of Helena, Fr. Val’s discernment about relocating was accelerated, He was appointed administrator at Resurrection University Parish in July of 2006. He was then incardinated as a priest of the diocese and installed as Pastor in December of the same year. He recalled, “I came in as administrator at first. I remember walking in and asking Diane Dwyer ‘Where is the church?’. I was so used to churches that always had an altar and the church was always a quiet place. I grew up knowing where you worship isn’t where you do everything else.”
In Los Angeles, Fr. Val had served as curate on a new church building as well as a remodel and retrofit of a hundred-year-old church. This, combined with his joyful spirit and constant energy, was a sign for Diane Dwyer: “When Father Val came, we knew that we had to do this. We began the journey towards a new sacred space from there.”
Fr. Val expressed the need for improvements; “As a catholic pastor, I am obligated as a teacher to teach students about worship. Everything flows from the Mass. It was hard to teach using sign and symbol in a multipurpose room. I look back on all we did in that space, especially during Christmas and Holy Week, I don’t know how we did it, but we got through.”
Fr. Val also felt building a new church must include a new sense of identity for his congregation. He stated, “We needed to rebuild our community first. We have more parishioners now, including young families with small children, at Mass. We have African and Asian students attending MSU alongside students from Miles City. We also have a wonderful hispanic population here that is growing. We needed a space to represent the entire community, with a blend of the contemporary and the traditional, to bring people to the Lord through the Eucharist.”
In 2008, the parish began to establish a stronger sense of shared identity. He recalled, “I was teaching from Vatican II documents, talking about what we are called to as a church community. Our parish was learning about what it means to be part of the local church, that we have a shared history and broader community with Holy Rosary here in town and also with our greater diocesan church.” In 1965, the diocese had fully funded construction of the multipurpose space. To Fr. Val, this created challenges in rallying support, “We had a space built for us, so we started talking about what it means to invest our money and time and build this (church) ourselves. We can build this for our kids and grandkids and consider the bigger picture.”
Fr. Zdilla described the congregation’s response as, “A kind of osmosis” and said, “There was a real change from ‘This is the way we do things,’ to ‘This is how we can do this (project) together.’” The strongest early support for building came from several young families and, according to Fr. Val, the support and excellent work of Diane Dwyer garnered even greater support from the parish. He said, “A lot of key people came on board and Diane’s 40 years in the parish really helped spread enthusiasm across generations. As executive secretary for the entire project she was a conduit to parishioners, contractors and the diocese. It was a lot of work and she was very helpful.” Parishioners continued to rally as the parish developed a building committee and capital campaign committee with what Zdilla called, “Diverse representation across culture and generation.”
Planning commenced and the parish began a capital campaign in 2011. Momentum was halted however, as the diocese navigated through a difficult period of bankruptcy that would ultimately make the new church more expensive to build.
As diocesan bankruptcy drew to a close the community quickly resumed plans for building. Groundbreaking and blessing of the site took place May 3, 2015 and construction moved swiftly. The congregation celebrated Mass in the new liturgical space for the first time on Ash Wednesday 2016.
As the interior of the church was fitted with sacred art and the baptismal font completed, parishioners had the opportunity to see progress toward the day of church dedication.
“The most beautiful moment of all was watching people come in and see it for the first time,” Dwyer recalled. “Their mouths dropped open! To watch their looks and smiles as they blessed themselves at the font as they entered, it was so incredible for us to see. There was a sense of ‘We did it!’ We were very blessed.”
Learn more about the building project and new parish facilities at http://www.resurrectionbozeman.org/