Blessed beginning for IHM

Sara Pascarella knows her church, Immaculate Heart of Mary in Liverpool, won't hold out much longer.

"We don't know how long we'll be able to stay in the building in terms of codes and inspections," said Pascarella, a member of the church's building committee. "Right now, we're okay, but the building is old and it's small. It's just not doing what it needs to do anymore."

In a time when many churches face declining attendance, IHM has the opposite problem: it's booming. The church, built in 1960, has grown to more than 1,400 families, and it's struggling to serve them. Though IHM offers two basketball programs (Catholic Youth Organization and the Samuel J. Piraino Youth Basketball league), neither can use the church for games; they have to rent space from nearby Chestnut Hill Middle School. Of the 300 children in the parish who are eligible to attend Vacation Bible School, there is only enough classroom space for 50. People have actually been turned away from church dinners because there wasn't enough space to seat them.

Recognizing the need for a change, the church began raising money five years ago to construct a new building.

"We needed it for years," said parishioner Anne Piraino, another member of the building committee. "It's really time to get going on this."

The church met its initial fundraising goal in 2006 and held a groundbreaking ceremony for the new structure. Unfortunately, things hit a snag after that.

"The Diocese held it up with their reconfiguration," Pascarella said. "We didn't know if we'd still be open. We couldn't move forward until they made their decision."

Fortunately, IHM was spared from the chopping block, but the retirement of its priest, Father John Ahern, presented another setback in terms of fundraising.

"There have just been so many changes," Piraino said. "It's been hard to keep the momentum going."

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