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Catholic News Herald

Serving Christ and Connecting Catholics in Western North Carolina

102717 st luke annMINT HILL — Members of St. Luke Church celebrated the parish’s 30th anniversary with a dinner and dance Oct. 14. About 100 attendees honored the feast day of St. Luke and anniversary of the church with a catered four-course meal, an open bar and a live band. The reception was scheduled to last until 10 p.m., but everyone kept dancing until much later in the evening.

Most of the founding parishioners – as well as retired founding pastor Father Joe Mulligan; Father Paul Gary, pastor; and Deacon Jeffrey Evers – attended the celebration. The welcoming, relaxed atmosphere of the celebration was quite evident, but the historical roots were less obvious.

Thirty years prior, Father Gary was unknowingly present for what was the inception of the Mint Hill parish. As he explained in the parish bulletin, “I answered the door one night when I was parochial vicar at St. Leo’s in Winston-Salem. Father Mulligan and Bishop John F. Donoghue went upstairs, met behind closed doors, and I never knew what transpired until St. Luke’s was joyfully announced in 1987.”

The late Sister Veronica Grover wrote of the parish’s history: “On the feast of St. Luke, 1987, a handful of people gathered in the movie theater of Matthews Festival to initiate a new parish named for St. Luke. Father Joe Mulligan called his small flock to honor their patron saint by becoming a ‘healing presence in the community.’ So began this parish community, committed to the ministry of justice, peace and compassion for the poor and suffering, committed to making a difference in the larger community.”

Among this “handful” were Marilyn and William Armstrong, Phyllis and Raymond Mennitt, and Catherine and Thomas Ferguson. All from Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Charlotte, all making their homes in Mint Hill, knowing that their pastor and friend was establishing a new parish. “I guess you could say we moved to Mint Hill because of Father Joe,” recalls Phyllis Mennitt. The Ferguson and Armstrong families also followed Father Mulligan to Mint Hill.

102717 St Luke anniversary1102717 St Luke anniversary1“By December, Father Joe had found what was to be the first real parish home, in a storefront in the shopping plaza called Mint Hill Festival. It was located between an Eckerd and Movie Mania,” wrote Sister Veronica.

Phyllis Mennitt remembered, “The first funeral we did at the storefront was hilarious. The funeral home workers were rolling the casket right in front of Eckerd to the storefront. A woman came outside, and her face just said it all.”

“Being such a small community made us really have to step up. Everybody involved did everything and loved every bit of it. I was involved with liturgy and adult education,” explained Marilyn Armstrong.

“The storefront was such a welcoming and warm environment, so non-formal. We had coffee and donuts after each service and we got along so well together. Father Joe was so vibrant,” said Catherine Ferguson.

“During this time a lot of people were getting transferred here from IBM. Every time I picked my head up, a new family was standing in front of me. The church was growing at a rapid rate. We needed a building,” Mennitt said.

A church building was ready in time for the parish’s patronal feast day in 1994.

“Bishop William G. Curlin told me so much incense was used at the dedication Mass in 1995 that the fire alarm went off,” Father Gary said with a smile.

Father Gary is the third pastor of St. Luke Parish, and parishioners say they have been blessed with each priest who has come to serve their growing community.

“Father Joe was late to everything – we called it ‘Father Joe time.’ The 9 a.m. Mass was really 9:10,” laughed Mennitt. “Father Joe is so motivational. He really gets you to commit to things you were too nervous to do, but should do. He convinced me to become an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. I told him I was not worthy to serve and he reassured me I was just as worthy as him. He also encouraged me to start the homeless shelter ministry. There are no pew potatoes with Father Joe around.”

Father Mulligan continues to live in Mint Hill, where he still keeps in touch with parishioners, and although retired from active parish ministry he serves as a chaplain at the Charlotte-Douglas Airport.

Father Jim Hawker served as pastor after Father Mulligan retired.

Mennitt recalled of Father Hawker, “He was so funny! He would laugh so hard he couldn’t even finish his own joke. You just could not help but love him.”

“Father Jim was here for around seven years. He loved giving homilies. He actually had a different homily for every single Mass – no repeats with him,” said Armstrong. “He loved receptions. We would have anniversary and birthday celebrations. He brought a ministry of celebration here.”

To this day, at the end of each Mass, parishioners still recognize each other’s birthdays and anniversaries.

Father Gary came to serve as pastor after Father Hawker retired. He embodies the compassion of St. Luke and the “healing presence” that Father Mulligan desired, parishioners say.

“He is the most compassionate and sweetest man I ever met. He has a gift for saying funerals and helping the sick,” Mennitt said. “I have never heard a better funeral. Every time, my jaw remains dropped.”

Father Gary may not have realized it at the start, but he is continuing to open doors for St. Luke’s in all directions, figuratively and literally, while the parish embarks on a new expansion, develops more ministries, and welcomes an astounding number of new parishioners. The parish has grown from its 42 founding families to more than 1,500 families today.

“St. Luke’s is a great parish, over 1,500 families strong! Father Joe Mulligan did a great job as founding pastor. He helped build a close-knit, family-oriented parish dedicated to helping others. Father Jim Hawker was the second pastor, and both are well loved by the people here. I am honored to follow in their footsteps,” Father Gary said.

“We are working towards building a church, an education building and social hall on the new property on Fairview Road,” he said, to accommodate the parish’s growth. “We have five Masses every weekend including one in Spanish. Father Richard Hanson helps us every second Sunday at the 4:30 p.m. Sunday Mass. From time to time, we have the help of retired priests, who are always warmly welcomed.”

“St. Luke’s is such an active parish, has fantastic music, and you can really feel God here. Everyone knows each other. Our faces light up whenever we see one another. My faith has grown so much over these 30 years,” Armstrong said as she looked around the church.
“It’s like home here.”
— Lisa Geraci, Correspondent