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Big Move Is in Store for Growing Thousand Oaks Congregation


Will the peripatetic pastor with the engaging brogue still have time to keep up his tradition of visiting parishioners in their homes to offer aid in distress? Can he continue to make time for the newcomer dinners the parish hosts?

Others say they will miss the way the storefront church integrated worship into the rest of their lives, closing the gap between secular and spiritual.

"You could go over to Pavilions after Mass and see people you didn't have a chance to talk to in church," Henggeler said.

The people who will follow O'Reilly across the street in December first met for Mass at Oak Park Elementary School, setting up the portable altar each Sunday. "It was 'have church, will travel,' " said Boespflug, who said the lack of a permanent place to worship or a permanent priest to guide them inspired a sense of family that went far beyond the usual feelings of community. "If someone didn't come to Mass on Sunday, you missed them," she said.

Boespflug remembers that many of the original parishioners worried that the move from the school to the shopping center would disrupt their fledgling group. "At first the storefront felt empty," Boespflug said. "Then we began adding our banners and decorations. Now it feels like a church to me. We've been able to do everything we need to out of that space--baptisms, funerals. I wouldn't have any qualms about staying there."

St. Max's itinerant tradition was upheld even after the parish moved to its storefront. Each year, to accommodate crowds at Christmas and Easter, all the worship items, from altar to candles and chalices, have been trekked three miles down the road to Medea Creek Middle School.

Being a spiritual beacon to the community doesn't come cheap. So far, St. Maximilian's has had two pledge campaigns and is counting on a loan from the Los Angeles Archdiocese, along with an influx of new members to add their dollars to the collection plate.

Henggeler says he has talked to people who could not visualize going to Mass in the same place they take their children for pizza or buy mouthwash. One newcomer said it was a good thing the parish was so far along in building its new worship space. "I wouldn't be able to take this as long as some of these people have," he said. "I need to be inside a church."

O'Reilly admits it has sometimes been a hard go. "People told me they'd come after I built the church," says the congenial monsignor. "I told I couldn't build it if they didn't come." Other parishioners, many of them veterans of other church campaigns, balked at the idea of having to cough up more dollars for yet another structure.

But not Boespflug and her husband, Rich, who helped build a church, parish hall and chapel in their native Colorado and will still be paying off their pledge to St. Maximilian's when they return there for retirement. Back in Colorado, they will have the opportunity to build still another church. "We feel so blessed to be part of the process," Boespflug said. "I believe we were called to be part of church building."

Easter marked the last pilgrimage St. Maximilian parishioners will make to Medea Creek school for Holy Week, this Pentecost the last the community will drape bolts of red cloth under the plastic shopping center sign that identifies O'Reilly's storefront between the State Farm Insurance agency and a postal supply store.

But fellow cleric Mitchel warns that the loss of intimacy that some St. Maximilian parish members fear is real. No matter how friendly and outgoing old members might be toward the new, the feeling of the congregation is likely to change.

"Our congregation had never had a real home," Mitchel said. "They were looking forward to having their own place so much that they didn't realize intimacy would be lost. Not just the number of people, but the physical size of the place. They didn't recognize this until many months later."

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