Durham Parish Celebrates Payment of Mortgage

Jocelyn Thomas Around the Province

DURHAM, N.C. – There was joy and a sense of satisfaction in the air at Immaculate Conception Parish, when the community celebrated the final payment of a 20-year loan with a parish-wide event held on Feb. 29, just a few weeks before COVID-19 restrictions were enacted. Friars and partners-in-ministry joined together to acknowledge the full payment of the $2.8 million loan used for the construction of an addition to the church to meet the needs of the growing congregation.

It was one of the last celebrations held at the parish before residents of North Carolina were told weeks later, on March 16, not to gather in large groups because of the pandemic.

Chris Van Haight, Diana McNeil and Maggie Burton at the Feb. 29 celebration. (Photo courtesy of Hugh Macsherry)

At the Saturday evening event, Chris Van Haight, OFM, pastor, thanked parishioners and staff – including those who had been there through the years – for achieving the final loan payment in less time than expected.

“Fifteen years, 2.8 million dollars –and we did it,” Chris told those in attendance. “We did this because of you, because of the dedication of your faith in this parish and your willingness to work together for this parish.”

Chris singled out the former pastor, David McBriar, OFM, who served in that position from 1999 to 2005, as the driving force behind the construction project.

“I want to thank someone who could not be with us tonight – someone whose vision it was to build this church, with many other people of course, but he was the real leader. David McBriar, by force of will, almost made this happen,” said Chris. “I think that you can hear from what I’m saying that even with his efforts, it wasn’t just one person. It was a community, the Body of Christ, coming together to build this church.”

Participants at the event represented the broad diversity of the parish community. Hilton Martinez, the vice-chair of the IC Parish Council, invited attendees to “look at each other, take a moment, recognize each other’s faces – different cultures, different ethnicities, different people, but we have one thing in common – that we all love God.”

Diana McNeil, chair of the Immaculate Conception Pastoral Council, observed that “the mortgage is just a piece of paper, but what we’re really celebrating is a family that we all represent here today.”

McNeil and Chris both acknowledged Margie Burton, senior director of stewardship and faith formation, for coordinating the celebratory event, which by all accounts was a wonderful success, according to Hugh Macsherry, OFM.

Immaculate Conception Church in downtown Durham, N.C. (Photo courtesy of the parish)

“After the presentations and a raffle with terrific door prizes, Chris burned the mortgage paper in the courtyard as the parish family basked in the glow of the small flames,” said Hugh, who has been stationed in Durham since 2017.

Photos and videos of the history of the parish were also on view at the celebration.

Founded in 1906 by Fr. William “Billy” O’Brien, the Durham parish has been staffed by the Franciscan friars of HNP since 1996. In 2003, a new church was constructed utilizing the original building. The old sanctuary, which now leads into a more expansive sanctuary, was converted into multi-purpose use – a gathering space, daily Mass chapel, and support area.

Immaculate Conception Parish, which has approximately 1,400 registered families, participates in a broad range of outreach ministries. Among them are community organizing, the Furniture Project (which offers home furnishings to families moving into homes for the first time), volunteers for food service to homeless shelters and family organizations, food distribution to parishioners in need, prison, and hospital ministries, youth groups, parenting support and faith formation, Bible studies, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (a Montessori-based religious education curriculum), immigrant advocacy, volunteer tax-prep aid, hunger advocacy walk, and a faith-based family financial planning program.

Immaculata, the parish school established in 1909 by the Sisters of St. Dominic from Newburgh, N.Y., currently has more than 500 students in grades pre-kindergarten through eight. In 2012, it earned the National Blue Ribbon Schools Award from the U.S. Department of Education.

In 2006, the parish commemorated its 100th anniversary, which was titled “A Century of Witness.” The Raleigh Diocese leader at the time, Bishop Michael Burbidge, celebrated a Mass that concluded a year-long observance of the parish’s history and its role in the history of Durham and surrounding communities. Among the concelebrants at the anniversary Mass were Dan McLellan, OFM, pastor; David McBriar, pastor emeritus; William McConville, OFM, parochial vicar of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Raleigh, and Dominic Monti, OFM, Provincial Vicar of Holy Name Province.

Since 2016, young adults participating in the Province’s Franciscan Volunteer Ministry have been stationed in Durham, providing service work for parish and community programs.

Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.