Wake County

Raleigh Catholic church expands to fit growing membership

The exterior of the new St. Bernadette Center at Our Lady of Lourdes, one of the oldest Catholic churches in Raleigh, on Friday, March 6, 2015.
The exterior of the new St. Bernadette Center at Our Lady of Lourdes, one of the oldest Catholic churches in Raleigh, on Friday, March 6, 2015. cseward@newsobserver.com

It would have been hard to imagine that Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church would grow big enough to need a $6 million addition when it opened 60 years ago.

It was only the second Catholic church in Raleigh when it opened in 1954 off Anderson Drive as an offshoot of the downtown Sacred Heart Cathedral.

Now it’s one of 10 Catholic parishes in the city and serves part of the booming Catholic population in the area.

Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church and School will celebrate its part in that growth – and its 60th birthday – with the dedication of its new 19,000-square-foot St. Bernadette Center this weekend. The center features a new gym and rooms for music classes and adult faith studies.

The expansion project also gave the church a chance to update parts of its campus to be more handicapped accessible.

The Diocese of Raleigh gave the church $3 million for the updates, and the parish used donations and savings to cover the other $3 million.

Father John Forbes, who oversees the church and the school, said the additional space was necessary to comfortably host classes for adults and give students more space for special activities, such as music classes and rehearsals.

“We were finding it more and more difficult to schedule the rooms we had available,” he said.

Our Lady of Lourdes school has a band and strings program that will now have dedicated space to practice. Adult education classes, such as Bible studies and other religious studies, have swelled to 40 to 50 adults per class and will be able to move out of the school’s library into a new, larger room.

Schools draw families to church

Forbes credits the school for membership growth at Our Lady of Lourdes. The school has 524 students from kindergarten to eighth grade, and most of those families also became part of the church.

“It’s been a tremendous draw,” Forbes said. “We have people who come from all over to come to this school. That’s what gets new families into our parish.”

An influx of Catholics to Eastern North Carolina, including Hispanics from Mexico and Central America, has swelled church attendance throughout the 54 counties that make up the Diocese of Raleigh. “Rather than closing churches and consolidating, we’re trying to figure out how we can build more churches and more facilities to meet the needs of the people,” Forbes said.

The Diocese of Raleigh has 250,000 registered members and an estimated 250,000 unregistered members, said diocese spokesman Billy Atwell.

As a result of that growth, the diocese is building a new mother church, the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral in West Raleigh. Our Lady of Lourdes raised $1.5 million toward the cost of the cathedral while its members raised money for their own renovations.

The $41 million cathedral will take about two years to complete and will become the main place of worship for the diocese.

Hankerson: 919-829-4802;

Twitter: @mechelleh

Want to go?

Our Lady of Lourdes will host a tour of the new St. Bernadette Center for community members and alumni from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. An official dedication and reception will follow at 11:30 a.m. Sunday after the church’s weekly Mass.

The center is located at 2718 Overbrook Drive in Raleigh.