A blessed event is about to take place in Perrysburg. The late popes John XXIII and John Paul II will be canonized on Sunday in Vatican City, and Perrysburg's Blessed John XXIII Catholic Community, which its founding pastor, the Rev. Herb Weber, says is the newest and fastest-growing parish in the Diocese of Toledo, will get an upgrade of sorts as it changes its name to St. John XXIII Catholic Community.
The new saintly name “might formalize us and people might lose a little bit of the sense of our uniqueness because they're going to start calling us St. John,” Father Weber said. “I've already asked people, please, when you tell people what church you go to, say St. John XXIII. Don't just say St. John. There's nothing wrong with St. John, but we don't want to lose our patron.”
“I think we're very proud of the fact that John XXIII as a person and as a pope was extremely open,” Father Weber said. “He was understanding, he had a big heart, he cared for people. … He came off as kind of a jolly old man, but the truth is he was a very wise person and a savvy leader.”
Father Weber sees similarities to John XXIII in Pope Francis. “I've been most impressed,” he said, “because he is not afraid to challenge people or to refocus where the church should be. … Some people get a little impatient with him because he talks about the poor, and I would say that's probably what we need to hear most.”
The Perrysburg church will celebrate Sunday afternoon with the unveiling of a revised sign on its grounds at 24250 Dixie Hwy. at 3:30 p.m. followed by a 4 p.m. intergenerational faith festival "about Pope John XXIII and about the Second Vatican Council because those are so connected,” Father Weber said. A social time in the multipurpose building's Roncalli Hall (a tribute to John XXIII's given name, Angelo Roncalli) at 5:30 p.m. ends the afternoon. There is no charge for the festival, but attendees are requested to bring finger food.
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Father Weber and the church staff have not requested that their patron saint intervene with a miracle to change the church name to “Saint” instantly everywhere there is a “Blessed.” Instead, they're working with vendors, government, utilities, and the diocese. There will be new stationery and business cards, new entries in directories, revised bank and business accounts, and a long list of other changes, including a new logo. Static clings of the new name for display on car windows will be available Sunday.
“Probably the hardest [revision], though, is all the online stuff,” Father Weber said. The community makes thorough use of social media, even having an app for tablets and smartphones. When Pope Francis announced in September 2013 that he would elevate two of his papal predecessors to sainthood, within 24 hours the Perrysburg church had bought the domain name stjohn23.org, Father Weber said. A new website will be launched with the name change. The previous domain name, blessedjohn.org, will forward to stjohn23.org.
The diocese has distant memory of an earlier parish name change because of sainthood. Blessed Pius X was formed in 1953, and the following year it became St. Pius X.
In summer 2005, the diocese wanted to grow in the Perrysburg area, so while it was closing or merging other parishes in northwest Ohio, it opened Blessed John XXIII. For the first three years, Masses and other activities were at Perrysburg High School and a Lutheran church.
In 2008, the community's multipurpose building on Dixie Highway, where it currently holds worship services, opened. Now a three-year capital campaign is underway to fund construction there of the actual church building and other features. “We don't build it for today; we're building it for the future,” Father Weber said.
In the “best of all worlds,” he said, the building would be erected and moved into in five years. “We continue to grow. We get anywhere from 150 to 200 new families per year. It's very exciting because the other wonderful statistic is the age. The median age of this parish is 33. … There's kids everywhere.”
The new worship space could seat 900; the community has an average of about 350 people at each of its four weekend Masses. “People do somehow get that experience of community while they're here,” Father Weber said, “so it's more than just a word for us—it's almost like a goal.”
Father Weber, 66, will be in his 70s by the time St. John XXIII completes construction. “I don't want to retire right after building it; I want to enjoy it,” he said. “It's not mine. It's not my parish. … I will move on, but not right away.”
The ceremony of Pope Francis canonizing John XXIII and John Paul II can be seen live on EWTN, channel 56 on Buckeye CableSystem, at 3:30 a.m. Sunday, scheduled until 7 a.m., with a repeat showing at 7 p.m.