Faith: St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church

The story of St. Thomas the Apostle, as recounted in the Bible, is one of a gradual acceptance of Jesus as the son of god. Scripture says Thomas only became a true believer in Jesus Christ after he put his hand into Jesus’ side after the resurrection. Even today, many lifelong Catholics still refer to him as “doubting Thomas.”

In many ways, St. Thomas the Apostle seems an unlikely name for the Catholic church in northwest Naperville. Strong faith and a generous spirit of outreach to the community are the hallmark of St. Thomas, according to the Rev. Don McLaughlin.

“(The anniversary theme), I am St. Thomas … Celebrating 30 Years, recognizes all that the faith community has been, is, and pledges to be as it continues to love and strive to serve its neighbors near and far,” McLaughlin says.

This summer begins a yearlong celebration of the church’s 30th anniversary. The congregation kicked the year off in June with John Angotti, a Christian rock musician, leading musical prayers during a series of Masses. The celebration will continue through 2015, but it will be “low-key,” according to Associate Pastor Bob Colaresi.

“If God dwells within us, why do we ask others to recognize the goodness we were given to share?” he said.

St. Thomas the Apostle was founded June 18, 1984. Services at the time were conducted for about 300 members at Thayer Hill Middle School. Thirty years later, All Saints Catholic Academy educates children from pre-kindergarten through fifth grades. St. Thomas is one of three area parishes that feed into the private school.

The current church structure was dedicated Sept. 13, 1986. Membership is officially more than 3,600 households in DuPage County, according to Colaresi. He says about 400 people from those families regularly attend Sunday Mass. When they enter the church, they are met by volunteer “hosts.”

Dorothy Paperiello is one of those greeters with a warm smile and a “hello.” Paperiello joined St. Thomas about two and a half years ago. She echoes both pastors’ emphasis on the welcoming spirit at St. Thomas.

“I think it’s nice. We’ve had a succession of very active pastors. The first pastor set us on the right track,” Paperiello says.

St. Thomas is a sister parish with St. Nicholas in Aurora, and has an ongoing relationship with 20 churches in Haiti. The church provides financial support along with more practical items, like clothes and food.

“Members participate In Habitat for Humanity, and a variety of mission trips as well,” Colaresi says.

The church’s garden pantry is another branch of its community outreach. Anne Schultz, outreach minister at St. Thomas, says many church volunteers have participated in planting and distributing fresh produce over the years. All produce is grown on site, according to Lorna Wilder, who facilitates the project. The fruits of their labor are tomatoes, green beans, lettuce, kale, peppers, onions and more. Volunteers add the fresh produce to a client’s regular weekly supply of groceries.

Rick Koeneman is relatively new to St. Thomas. He lends his business acumen to community members looking for jobs. Once a month, he and other parishioners meet with support from DuPage Connect and Career Connect Midwest. The goal, according to Koeneman, is to help people apply for jobs, prepare for interviews or meet with leaders in business and industry to make it easier for them to find employment.

“Once a month a guest speaker is invited to speak about a more specific topic,” Koeneman adds.

Maria Carino also says she and her husband chose St. Thomas because of its reputation for community service and hospitality.

“I like it. There was no pressure to join. If you like it, you stay.”

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By The Numbers

St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church, 1500 Brookdale Road, Naperville:

Serves between 750 and 800 people

Served 175 families a month in 2013

Typically two distributions a month from the garden pantry 500 children among those served

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