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Now that the wooded site is cleared, the bear and deer may not return - but the robins are still singing at St. Paul's Church.
"It used to be the trees came right up to the parking lot," said the Rev. Tony Dummer, gesturing at the view from his office window. But Dummer is a realist about the 5-acre parcel he's reshaping to keep up with parish growth. The present church seats only 250, and he has 600 families to serve.
The Mendenhall Valley Catholic church's $2.2 million expansion project occupies one of the most public sites in Juneau, the corner of Egan Drive and Mendenhall Loop Road.
"I don't think you could get a more visible corner in Juneau - except for 10th and Egan," Dummer said.
The present church will remain on site, but its future is uncertain.
"It may be a senior center, a youth center - we haven't decided," Dummer said today.
The new building's foundation was poured last week, and contractor Jim Williams of North Pacific Erectors predicted the church will be finished mid-March 2002.
The project began three years ago with the arrival of Dummer, who describes himself as "a missionary with an engineering background." Before moving to Juneau, he had just finished a school and three churches in Los Angeles, buildings that needed retrofitting or reconstructing after the 1994 earthquake.
Dummer, 60, is a former high school teacher and principal in Oakland, Calif., "but the Lord gave me a different call and I joined the priesthood at 45," he said. His first step in Juneau was to bring in a liturgical consultant from Albuquerque. "He did a lot of education with parishioners about keeping up with growth," Dummer said.
The new church was designed by Jensen Yorba Lott architects. It will seat parishioners on three sides of the altar and will include an immersion font, a baptismal accouterment that is being revived and "becoming important in our Easter liturgies especially," Dummer said. The one-level church will feature a large lobby, a vesting sacristy, a Blessed Sacrament chapel, a day chapel looking into a prayer garden and storage.
Two years ago, St. Paul's held a pledge drive that raised $1.1 million - about half the cost of the new church.
"We had lots of ideas for other things. We had lots of dreams - and then you look at the checkbook," Dummer said.
For example, stone facing for part of the exterior had to give way to less costly wood siding. Dummer has commissioned Juneau artist Charles Rohrbacher to create a life-size icon of the Risen Christ for the wall behind the altar, but other decorative touches such as stained glass facing Loop Road and a bronze statue in the prayer garden will have to wait "until we get the rest of it paid for."
The Rev. Michael Nash of the Cathedral of the Nativity remembers St. Paul's from serving there 1979-82.
"In 1980, there were about 350 families. I think (the growth of St. Paul's parish) is due largely to people moving in and to the growth of Juneau in general," Nash said. "We believe the active, participating Catholic population here is 8 to 10 percent. The other factor is that in 1980, the average age in Alaska was 27. As families mature and get into their 40s, they attend church more often."
Ann Chandonnet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.