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parish profile
St. Luke Parish in Middleburg   
A multi-cultural community committed to social change   

by Shannon Scruby Henderson

Father Edward Rooney likes to describe the church his parish built on the corner of Blanding Boulevard and State Road 220-A as a blend of ethnic elements and inspirations: “It is built of Spanish stucco with a Spanish tile roof and designed by an Indian architect,” he says. “The front doors are made of Burmese teak fabricated by Hindu artisans in India. Over those doors is an Irish motif, the Celtic cross.” There is a parallel, he notes, between the eclectic design elements of the parish’s church and the diversity of its congregation. “We are really a dynamic mix of ethnicities, with a population that includes Catholics with Filipino, Asian, Latino and Eastern European backgrounds.”
The Spanish-style church, dedicated by Bishop Victor Galeone on Nov. 17, 2002, was designed by Bhide and Hall Architects of Orange Park and seats 1000+ people.
  Crafted in the studios of Artistic Silver in Madrid, Spain, the Processional Cross and Paschal candle add to the sanctuary appointment.

“Father Rooney describes the parish as “urban-rural,” a mix of retirees and young families who have moved into new developments in the area south of Orange Park. No longer a small parish - the current count is 1,900 families - St. Luke nevertheless manages with just one priest. Father Rooney is upbeat about the challenges. He depends on Deacon David Yazdiya (his “day” job is principal of Bishop Snyder High School) to assist on weekends. Committed lay parishioners fill the gaps, taking an active role in almost every aspect of parish life.

One of the busiest lay volunteers is Teresa Weisgerber, head of the Parish Outreach Ministry. She directs a group of more than 100. Together, they deliver a long list of services to members of their parish and the larger community - from a Welcoming Committee that contacts new parishioners and a Bereavement Committee that serves luncheons after funerals, to a group that collects food to make baskets for the needy at Thanksgiving and Christmas, to a Special Needs Committee that provides parishioners with rides to the doctor, grocery store and Mass. “What stands out to me is how St. Luke’s is like an extended family,” says Teresa. “There are plenty of good deeds to be done, and always someone to do them.”

In the same spirit of outreach, the parish has embraced a role in providing health care to the needy. St. Luke volunteers organize a monthly event at the Clay County Health Clinic that provides free exams, evaluations and prescriptions for the underinsured and uninsured. The Knights of Columbus at St. Luke conduct a Tootsie Roll drive to fund area school clinics. On the parish grounds, a satellite Catholic Charities office helps residents of Middleburg, Clay Hill and Lake Asbury, offering services that range from health care to housing assistance.

The Rajasthani marble baptismal font and pool were made by Hindu and Muslim craftsman in Bombay, India. The baptismal pool compliments the font and both are situated at the entry of the narthex so that parishioners are reminded of their own baptism as they enter the church.

“Father Rooney is the director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development in our diocese,” points out parishioner Paula Gonzalez. “He really supports us on social issues.” Paula is director of St. Luke’s newest ministry, JustFaith. The 12-member group is affiliated with a national ministry by the same name. “It’s a peer-led program of formation,” says Paula. “The subject is Catholic social teaching. It’s a 30-week journey, during which we read intensively, watch videos together, and share our reactions to subjects like poverty, racism, simple living and solidarity with the earth. We don’t all agree, but learning to respect each other’s differences is what makes the group dynamic. We also participate in four border crossing experiences, day trips in which we meet and interact with people who have much to teach us. None of us knows exactly where this will ultimately lead us, but we’re open and we’re learning about Catholic social teaching. After all, social change was what Jesus preached. It is the basis of our religion.”

St. Luke Parish at a glance
St. Luke Parish, est. 1982
1606 Blanding Blvd.
Middleburg, FL 32068

Pastor: Father Edward K. Rooney
Deacon: Deacon David Yazdiya
Parishioners: 1,900 registered families
Interparish School: 440 students, Pre-K through 8
Principal: Susan Altieri

Diocesan records indicate a Catholic presence in Middleburg as far back as 1859. At the turn of the century, priests from the Cathedral in St. Augustine and Immaculate Conception Parish in Jacksonville made periodic visits to the community’s tiny church. But numbers dwindled and for many years were too small to sustain even a mission presence. By 1972, 40 families from the Middleburg area were registered at St. Catherine Parish in Orange Park. They formed the nucleus for a mission led by Father Luke McLoughlin. In 1976, the group purchased an old Baptist church in Orange Park and moved it to Middleburg.

The mission in Middleburg became St. Luke Parish in 1982. Father Edward Rooney has served as pastor ever since. Under his leadership, the community has tackled several ambitious building projects, including a parish center that doubled as church and hall, finished in 1986, and a 1,000-seat, Spanish-style permanent church, consecrated in 2002.

St. Luke participated in the construction of Annunciation Interparish School, a joint project of three Clay County parishes, that is located on St. Luke’s grounds. Renovations to the Parish Center, now underway, will create an office and meeting space and a nursery.

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