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From the Back Pew: Reaching out through remodeling

Anytime a parish or church begins the process of remodeling its facilities, it piques my interest.

What will the architect come up with? What will the new facilities look like? And most importantly, how will these new buildings help the church or parish spread its message across its community?

It has always been the norm, at least to me, to consider church buildings as an extension of a church’s overall mission. The buildings themselves don’t make up the church. The people inside them do.

Consider St. Finbar’s Catholic Church in Burbank, where this Thanksgiving, the church will open up its new kitchen facilities for the first time for the parish’s annual Thanksgiving dinner, set for noon to 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, where roughly 300 meals are expected to be served.


According to St. Finbar Deacon Frank Kolbash, the kitchen resides in the church’s new community center, which was dedicated in June. The community center was built after the old parish hall was torn down. The old parish hall was the first church when the parish was founded in the 1938, said Kolbash.

The new community center is part of what Kolbash calls the “revitalization” of the parish. According to its website, St. Finbar is remodeling its facilities in a project dubbed The Keystone Plan (named after the church’s cross-street, Keystone Street). The Keystone Plan is said to be the largest construction project at the church in 60 years.

Sure, the project will see the rise of shiny new buildings, no doubt increasing the church’s property values. So why is building buildings important? Why is the Keystone Project relevant to St. Finbar now?

Well, for one thing, the parish hopes to bring in new people, which Kolbash says St. Finbar’s is seeing more of in its weekly Masses. These new people include Catholics who have left the church and are looking to return, he said. The facilities that will open at St. Finbar, including a new youth center at its former convent across the street and a daycare or classroom facility next door, will help the church reach out to these individuals.


“The thing that we are trying to instill on everyone is that it’s more than just going to Mass on Sunday,” said Kolbash. “It’s a seven-day-a-week job. That’s part of this revitalization. It’s to get people to know that when they leave Mass on Sunday, we are sending them out to spread the message of God.”

Of course, money is always the issue when it comes to projects like this, so the church has entered into a state of prayer and meditation such that the work — projected to cost upward of $2.5 million, with some help from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles — is completed (with guidance from St. Paul, wrote St. Finbar Pastor Rev. Albert Bahhuth in 2009 on the parish website).

Nella Ebli, 92, has been a parishioner of St. Finbar’s since 1955. In those days, space was limited, she said. On one end, you had the kitchen, on the other, the parish hall.

“I used to belong to the ICF [Italian Catholic Federation],” Ebli said. “We had big dinners there and big crowds there.”

Those big crowds, she said, is something she still sees at the church to this day. She hopes that people will be attracted to the new facilities and the services they offer free of charge, such as Thursday’s Thanksgiving dinner.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Ebli. “We have a beautiful church.”

MICHAEL J. ARVIZU writes for the La Cañada Valley Sun. Reach him at (818) 637-3263 or e-mail