Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Janis Fontaine
It’s a new era at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church and School in Boca Raton, where the old Mercy Center, built in 1989, has been replaced with a new one. A formal blessing and dedication is being planned for mid-March.
The church’s timeline began in December 1956, when the first Mass was held in Domina C. Jalbert’s Aerological Laboratories off 20th Street in Boca Raton.
In 1960, the founding members funded and built a provisional church and the school’s first classrooms just a few blocks off Dixie Highway in central Boca Raton. The new, permanent church was completed in December 1988. A few months later, the construction began that renovated the provisional church into a parish social center — what became the Mercy Center.
But the church, with more than 3,600 member families, outgrew the Mercy Center. The development committee first considered expanding the old Mercy Center by adding a second floor, but the building couldn’t support it. To make way for a center that would meet the needs of the church, the old center had to be torn down.
In December, the Mercy Center was demolished with St. Joan’s new, modern Mercy Center ready. For health and safety reasons, the heavy machinery and demolition crews cleared the land while the 500-plus children who attend St. Joan of Arc School were on Christmas break.
But seeing the building hauled away as rubble was bittersweet for some parishioners who had seen the church grow over the last 60 years. To help with the transition, the original stained glass windows, a prominent exterior cross, and an Art Deco figure of St. Joan of Arc all became important parts of the new center.
Msgr. Michael McGraw offered encouragement to the parish in the church bulletin in November: “Looking past the stained glass windows at the new Mercy Center you can imagine the bright future that we have in front of us, and the wonderful growth that will follow for our parish, ministries and community.”
Development and Stewardship Ministry Director Wendy Horton says the stained glass windows are better displayed in the new building. The church hired stained glass experts to remove, preserve and reframe the windows for their new home flanking the doorway into the auditorium at the new Mercy Center. Light pours into the new building and through the windows’ red and yellow panes to light the room with warmth and energy.
The $5.5 million, 20,200-square-foot building has clean lines and modern design. There’s a catering kitchen, a huge auditorium with a stage, plenty of room for socializing, classrooms and meeting rooms for Bible study and rehearsal space for the drama, dance and music programs.
Double-bookings of meeting rooms will be a thing of the past, Horton laughs.
The new building has the same footprint as the old, Horton said. The land that is left vacant by the old Mercy Center will become a playground and sports fields for both children and adults.
Horton hasn’t had time to consider what her next project will be, “but there’s always something to be done.”
“We’re very excited after all this time that (the new Mercy Center) is finally complete,” Horton said. “Everyone will benefit.”
St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church & School is at 370 SW Third St., Boca Raton. For more information, call 392-0007 or 952-2838; www.stjoan.org.
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