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Friday, December 10, 2010

Pastor Breathes New Life into Holy Spirit Church

Editor's note: This article appeared in the latest issue of the Mount Hope Monitor. It's Part 1 of a new series in the paper called "Where We Worship."


It’s a blustery December day, and the cozy chapel at the Church of the Holy Spirit has about 16 parishioners there for the early morning mass, scattered throughout the parish’s wooden pews. From the pulpit, Rev. Ricardo Fajardo delivers the Eucharist in a heavy Dominican accent; this is the first of two masses he’ll perform today.

Rev. Ricardo Fajardo (Photos: J. Evelly)
Fajardo became the pastor at Holy Spirit, on University Avenue, just five months ago, and he has ushered in a wave of changes at the century-old Catholic church. This includes nearly doubling the number of weekly mass services the church offers—services he delivers himself, as the only pastor—a change he says will help make the parish a more spiritual place.

“I want a community full of love and faith,” he said. “The Holy Spirit is a special community. They’ve been very generous and open to me and the changes I’ve wanted to make.”

The church now offers two masses every weekday—one in English and one in Spanish (Holy Spirit’s members, of which the church estimates to be somewhere around 70 people, are predominantly Hispanic, and Fajardo himself is much more comfortable speaking in Spanish than in English).

The church is located at 1940 University Ave.
In addition to the extra masses, Fajardo has converted a space on the building’s fourth floor into a new “Spiritual Center,” where the church begun to host weekend prayer retreats. The center is in what used to be a nuns’ long-vacant nun’s quarter that Fajardo renovated with fresh coats of white paint, and furniture his parishioners donated themselves.

“He’s been really working with the community, and everyone seems to welcome that,” said Justa Iboy, who directs Holy Spirit’s religious education classes and has been attending the church for nearly 20 years.

“Father just added altar girls,” she said, of the position traditionally reserved for adolescent boys. “Since I’ve been here, [through] like eight other priests, he’s the first to allow that.”

Fajardo is originally from the Dominican Republic but has worked for the past several decades at churches in Manhattan, most recently at The Church of Saint Catherine of Genoa in Washington Heights.

Now, he spends part of his days at Holy Spirit bouncing back and forth between the parish and its elementary school next door, which has nearly 300 students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

One of his other goals, Fajardo said, is to bridge the gap between the school and the church, which remain somewhat divided--many of the students and their families are not parishioners at the church, and the regular mass-goers know little about the classes that take place just next door.

So the Reverend has invited the school’s principal, Grace Lucie, to speak during services. And he’s added updates on his students’ accomplishments—like a list of children who made the Social Studies honor roll—to the church’s weekly bulletin newsletter.

“He’s been good at [putting] the two together, because it’s really been separate, in a way,” said Lucie, who has been principal at the school for 15 years. “It depends on the pastor—some take no part in running the school. He leaves all the major decisions to me, but he’s there with the children in the morning, and in the afternoon.”

For longtime parishioner Carmen Reyes, who now works in the rectory, Fajardo’s attitude embodies what attracted her to the church when she first joined years ago.

“I used to go to St. Nicholas of Tolentine, which is a beautiful building,” she said. “This is a smaller parish, and it has a real sense of family. You get to really make contact and get to know the other parishioners.”

Fajardo says his goal is to make sure the parish is as warm and inviting others as it's been to him.

“We want everyone to know that the doors are always open,” he said. “All who want to come, are welcomed.”

Editor’s Note: The Church of the Holy Spirit, at 1940 University Ave., holds mass every and Saturdays at 9 a.m. in English and at 7 p.m. in Spanish, and four masses every Sunday. For more information, call (718) 583-0120 or visit the church's website.


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