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June 14, 2014

Church project clears hurdle: Panel OKs plans for move to Richland

— When a heap of building issues started piling up inside Holy Cross National Catholic Church’s aging building in 2006, the Rev. Paul Zomerfeld knew his congregation had a decision to make.

They could continue pouring money into a crumbling, 1920-era worship hall in a neighborhood where membership was dwindling, or spend years of hard work and sacrifice to raise money for a new church, Zomerfeld said.

The congregation voted to take the hard road, he said. But after eight years of festival fundraisers and pierogi sales, their prayers for a new church are a step closer to fruition.

Richland Township’s planning commission tentatively approved site plans Tuesday for Holy Cross National Catholic Church to build a new church and social hall on a vacant tract along Mount Airy Drive.

And if all goes well, work could begin on the project in August, Zomerfeld said.

“It’s a miracle,” he added, saying his 22-family congregation worked hard to save up more than half of the nearly $400,000 needed to build at the new site.

“We’re a church whose youngest member is 51 years old. A lot of people sacrificed their time to make this happen,” he said.

The move is part of a multiphase plan on the 4.7-acre property, project engineer Dan Small of CJL Engineering said. If all goes well, the church group would add a second building on that site, allowing them to have a separate church and event space, he said. And if funds allow it, a rectory would be added on the property, he said.

Until that day, the church pastor will continue to reside at the existing 1950s-era Woodland Avenue rectory in Moxham, Small said.

Proof of a state erosion and sediment control permit would need to be received before the site plan would get final approval, the planning commission said. A proposed 103-space parking lot is adequate for the current project, but would need to be revisited if additions to the property are proposed in the future, Solicitor Gary Costlow said.

As planned, an 8,800-square-foot building that would include a kitchen and offices would be built on a site east of Mount Airy Drive.

Plans show the parking lot and a wooded area behind to the rear of the site.

Johnstown-based Major Builders is the project contractor, Zomerfeld said.

The planning commission approved the project after reviewing plans. Churches are permitted in residential districts even if this one would, at least temporarily, double as the social hall and event center, the commission said.

The local parish’s roots date back to 1918 in Moxham, about 20 years after Polish-Americans founded the National Catholic church, separating from the Vatican.

The church is recognized as a Catholic church in Rome and dialogue continues between the 127-congregation National Catholic Church and Rome, Zomerfeld said.

Locally, church membership has dwindled in Moxham, but Zomerfeld sees the Richland move as an opportunity for the church to flourish again.

“Our roots are Polish,” he said, “but today we open our doors to whoever wants to join us.”

David Hurst covers Richland Township for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/tddavidhurst.

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