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Parishioners work together, make sacrifices, to build their church

By: Brad Smith -- The Press Tribune
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For Father Arnold Ortiz, watching the growth of his parish, St. Joseph Marello, has been one miraculous occurrence after another. From holding church services at a school gym to watching his parish raise more than $4 million to build a new church – in today’s current economy – is nothing short of incredible, he feels. “In the fall of 2004, the church met with Granite Bay families who wanted to have their own parish,” he said. “Many people wanted it and I was more than willing to be there for them. I knew it’d be a challenge.” Since that time, Father Ortiz has spent his time divided between the parish’s offices on Sierra College during the weekdays and on weekends holding services at Cavitt Junior High School’s gym. “Church in a van,” is what he jokingly refers to his weekends. A typical Friday afternoon finds Ortiz packing the church’s van with an altar and other items needed to hold church services. “I pack, unpack and then setup and prepare for (Saturday and Sunday) services,” he said. “Sunday night, I pack and unpack. It gets tiring but it’s all for a very good reason.” And, he reminded himself, it was a temporary situation. “It’s been a long ‘temporary situation,’” Ortiz said. “Filing for the permits and the paperwork – that’s been very time-consuming. The land, 14 acres of it, was donated to us. That was easy but the paperwork and permit process has been taxing.” The next concern was raising the capital to build the church and put in the necessary infrastructure. “I was concerned and I think everyone was,” Ortiz said. “The economy has been rough on many people, especially those in our parish.” Mi Mi Challstrom helped oversee the capital fundraising project. She said that a number of parish meetings had been held and many parishioners said they were willing to make sacrifices. “People told me that they would do anything so we could have our church,” she said. “But what happened afterwards – I’d never expect.” It was amazing what they did, he said. Challstrom said some children set up lemonade stands and all of their money was donated to the church. “I would have kids who received money for Christmas and their birthdays – and they gave every cent to me,” she said. “I literally had kids give me their piggy bank money.” It was not just children. Tim and Nancy Hinchey live on a fixed income, mainly his pension and their Social Security. Hinchey said he and his wife talked about it and even prayed. “Even on a fixed income, Nancy and I figured out how we could get by and give money,” he said. “When I saw kids breaking open their piggy banks I knew I could do the same.” Arlene Stassinos along with her husband Paul looked at their budget and worked on a plan similar to the Hincheys’. “Things might get tight but we’ll get by,” she said. “Jesus made a greater sacrifice for all of us. Paul and I felt we could make our sacrifices as well.” With cash donations – mainly from families who made the same decisions the Hincheys and Stassinoses did – lemonade stand money and various fundraising events, the St. Joseph Marello parish has raised more than $4.5 million in over a year. “It’s more than enough to let us start construction,” Ortiz said. On May 30, the parish held a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of their new church, 7200 Auburn-Folsom Road. Bishop Jaime Soto from Sacramento was present for the event and blessed the land before shovels broke ground. “It’s a special, emotional day for all of us,” Stassinos said. “We’re all looking forward to the day when we can walk into our new home.” Ortiz looks forward to that day as well. “It means no more packing and unpacking for me,” he said with a smile. “It means I can devote more time to being with my parish.” Brad Smith can be reached at brads@goldcountrymedia.com.