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Stewardship is Transformational 
Queen of Peace Parish in Gainesville 

by Shannon Scruby Henderson

“Stewardship is taking the gifts that God gives us, being grateful, using them to the best of our abilities, and providing increase for the Lord,” says pastor Jeff McGowan. “That’s our real mission at Queen of Peace: to use everything we’ve got to draw more people toward the table of the Lord.”
 

Designed by KBJ/Associated Florida Architects and built by Charles Perry Construction, the new Queen of Peace Church seats 1,500 and was dedicated on Oct. 7, 2001.
     
  Pastor of Queen of Peace Parish since June 1999, Father Jeff McGowan has been instrumental in developing a very dynamic, energetic, bright and diverse Catholic community.

The overarching concept is pervasive at Queen of Peace, which bills itself as A Total Stewardship Parish. “We don’t separate the concepts of time, talent and treasure,” says Karen Milligan, co-director of stewardship. “It’s not one or the other; it’s all three. We encourage parishioners to take the time to do something for their spiritual development. Talent means finding their passion - something they’re really good at and love to do - and using it to give back. Treasure is also important, but it’s part of a total commitment.”

This commitment operates at the parish level as well. “We give 10 percent of our income to other charities,” says Father Jeff. “Some are local, like Arbor House (a refuge for abused women) and Ronald McDonald House. We give to organizations like Catholic Charities and the St. Vincent de Paul Society. And we have several missions in Haiti. One is a home for elderly homeless people that we built, staffed and maintain. We helped add a pediatric ward at St. Boniface Hospital, and we are benefactors of a clinic for infants and toddlers and their moms. Plus, working through the Hands Together Foundation in Princeton, N.J., we pay the entire faculty’s monthly salaries at an elementary school in the Cit du Soleil slum in Port-Au-Prince.”

With more than 80 active ministries and a school that will include Pre-K through 8th grade in the 2007-08 school year, Queen of Peace may not be a good fit for Catholics who like to disappear into the landscape after Sunday Mass. “We’ve been really blessed, and people are encouraged to show that,” Father Jeff says of his community that is composed largely of young professional families, many who work for the University of Florida or Shands Hospital. “Very few are needy. All are talented and energetic. Together, we have a big impact.”

To help parishioners optimize their gifts, the Stewardship Office works hard to communicate needs. Ministry fairs twice a year help connect people to outreach opportunities. A Ministry Forum meets once a quarter so that all sectors of the parish can update each other on programs and goals. “Even though we’re a big community, we want to be cohesive,” comments Karen Milligan. “At the forums, people from each ministry hear about what’s happening and volunteer to jump in and help each other out.” The parish also publishes a Gift Inventory: an updated list of parish and community needs that may appeal to individuals who are not otherwise connected with outreach. “If somebody likes computer work, for example, or can bake cookies, or work with the poor, this is an opportunity to get started. We encourage people to start the journey and give at the level they’re able to manage right now,” says Karen.

By all accounts, the efforts are working. “If I had to say one word about this parish, it would be ‘family,’” proclaims parishioner Sherry Cousins. “The people we’ve met there and the friends we’ve become close with are in many ways closer than my own family. Being involved gets you on your journey to being a better Catholic, a better person, and helps you realize who you are.”

The Rose Window, located high above the altar, contains the names of each individual parishioner. The altar was carved in Italy out of granite from Finland.

For George and Joan Weiland, founding members of the parish, the “family atmosphere” is largely due to Father Jeff and the people who work with him. “Everybody just thinks the world of him,” Joan says of her pastor. “We’re also blessed to have Father Kaz from Poland, who speaks Polish, English and Spanish and has such a beautiful voice. And our nuns - Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters Nancy, Bea and Franziska at Queen of Peace Academy - they’re just so dear to us!”

“We enjoy each other. We believe. We love our Catholic faith. It’s a very dynamic, wonderful experience of church,” says Father Jeff of his parish. “My main hope is that our young people will encounter the living Christ here, and their lives will be forever blessed. I won’t live to see it, but I pray that these kids will have good, secure lives in a very dangerous world.”

Queen of Peace Parish at a glance
Queen of Peace Parish
10900 SW 24th Avenue
Gainesville, FL 32607
(352) 332-6279
Email: office@queenofpeaceparish.org
Website: www.queenofpeaceparish.org


Pastor: Rev. Jeff McGowan
Parochial Vicar: Rev. Kazimierz Ligeza
Deacon: Deacon Bo Turner
Parishioners: 1,800 families
Academy: 265 students in grades PreK-7
Principal: Sister Nancy Elder, IHM

Rarely has a parish come so far in two decades as west Gainesville’s Queen of Peace Catholic Community. From a congregation of just 200 when it was founded in the spring of 1987, the parish now numbers nearly 6,000 members. Its tree-shaded campus is home to a complex of parish buildings: Walsh Hall, the Spanish mission style multi-purpose building built in 1992 that was the first church; a magnificent new church, dedicated in 2001; Queen of Peace Catholic Academy; and coming soon, a Walsh Hall makeover and the final phase of the school, a $4 million wing with six classrooms, music and art rooms, a youth center, school offices and adult ministry offices.

The parish was founded by Father Flannan Walsh, later assisted by Father John Patrick, a retired Air Force chaplain, and Father Paco Revilla, who pioneered the Spanish Mass. Since 1994, Father Jeff McGowan has led the community.
 

Email questions and comments to: sac@dosafl.com