Changes loom for burgeoning congregation at St. Andrew’s

The Rev. Robert Aliunzi, pastor of St. Andrew’s, is making a few changes in the sanctuary at the bustling Chandler parish in the coming months.  (Photo courtesy of St. Andrew Faith Community)

By Joyce Coronel

With more than 6,000 registered families, growing by another 250 families each year, St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church is one of the more dynamic congregations in Chandler. It’s also the second largest Catholic parish in the greater Phoenix area.

The Rev. Robert Aliunzi, who became pastor of St. Andrew’s a little over a year ago, recently gave his State of the Parish address in which he laid out what he sees as the future of the faith community.

At its core, he said, that future is inextricably interwoven with evangelization and the formation of disciples. He also touched on one of the more painful topics for Catholics: the mass exodus of so many Millennials.

“I have heard over and over again as a pastor from many of our parishioners here … that, sadly, many of you carry the huge burden of children and grandchildren who have abandoned the faith,” Rev. Aliunzi said. Many parents, he said, blame themselves for their children’s lack of faith.

“But the fact is that the rules have all changed. We no longer have the cultural props we had before, and the social current has turned against us all,” Rev. Aliunzi said.

“The only solution going forward is to return to what Jesus asked us 2,000 years ago: To not just make believers, or ‘practicing Catholics,’ but to make disciples.”

In that vein, renovations—both spiritual and physical—are on the horizon for the West Chandler church. The parish, Rev. Aliunzi said, needs to work toward forming disciples who make devotion to the Eucharist the center of their lives.

In an address to the parish this month, the Rev. Robert Aliunzi told his congregation he knows what it’s like to be poor.

St. Andrew’s, founded in 1985, was not designed with the classic Catholic tradition of placing the tabernacle that holds the Eucharist just behind the main altar. Instead, the parish has it off to the side, something Rev. Aliunzi said must change.

Bill Marcotte, pastoral associate at St. Andrew’s, pointed to the reasons why the tabernacle will be moved and a large crucifix will be installed.

“The Eucharist is central to our Catholic faith and it should be central to our parish,” Marcotte said.

Catholics believe that the bread consecrated by the priest during Mass becomes the body of Christ. “Where it is currently located makes it difficult to be reverent to Christ in the tabernacle. People don’t know which direction to genuflect, and as a result, many in our parish have stopped genuflecting altogether.”

It’s not uncommon, he added, to see someone leaning up against the tabernacle as they are waiting to find a seat.

For years, those who enter the sanctuary of the mission-style church have noted the large sculpture of the resurrected Christ mounted above the altar, an uncommon sight in a Catholic church.

One of the universals in a Catholic church over the centuries and across the world is the presence of a large crucifix front and center.

“The resurrection is mightily important, but without the crucifixion we do not have a resurrection,” Marcotte said. “As Catholics, we celebrate the paradox … Our faith is stronger because we recognize that through death we experience everlasting life.”

The parish, he noted, is one of the few Catholic churches around that does not have a crucifix.

All that will change soon. The parish will undergo renovation sometime this summer. Not everyone is happy though, and some have expressed their concerns to Rev. Aliunzi. They wonder if the funds spent on renovations might not be better utilized to feed the poor.

In a Jan. 8 letter to the parish, Rev. Aliunzi noted that the parish is already “doing a fantastic job of that in Haiti and in Africa.”

St. Andrew’s has an outreach program to both impoverished areas as well as robust outreach programs in Chandler.

“As an individual, I know what being poor means,” Rev. Aliunzi wrote. The Ugandan native was orphaned at an early age and was the youngest of 10 children who struggled to survive.

In his letter to parishioners, he also cited the biblical passage of the woman at Bethany whom the disciples criticized for anointing Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume—perfume that could have been sold, with the proceeds going to the poor.

Citing the late pontiff John Paul II, the Rev. Aliunzi wrote, “The church fears no extravagance, devoting the best of her resources to expressing her wonder and adoration” for the Eucharist.


  1. The $250,000 remodel has escalated to $750,000 and the founders are pissed and threatening to move to San Juan Diego which will be completed soon. There was no input from the congregation and no one is listening. Now Ft. Robert has left for a month to go home for family issues. We have three new foreign Priest who we cannot understand.

  2. As one of the original 42 families of St. Andrew the Apostle I’m saddened to hear of the changes you are undergoing. I loved the larger than life, living Jesus above the alter. The contributions made by Father Joe, those earlier parishioners and those that have followed.

    The Church will survive as it has for 2000 years. God bless you all.

  3. As another one of the early parishioners at St Andrews and still active today, it saddens me that the wonderful church we have known for all these years is going to go through so many changes, some welcome and some not. We have a lot of people in our parish, diocese, our community, and our two parish outreach orphanages that need help and it seems to me that the money to be spent on the changes at our church might be better used helping those needing help. Just food for thought!

  4. Last year, the Kyrene School District identified 401 of its students as homeless. In 2003, administrators identified only two.

    A new school year is just under way, yet high spikes in this demographic over the past two years is a trend unlikely to change soon.

    “We are anticipating more. It’s been jumping significantly every year,” said Roxanne Richardson, supervisor for the Kyrene Family Resource Center.

  5. As a parishioner at St. Andrews, I was gathered once with several parents of teens and we were discussing how some of our children preferred going to the non-Catholic Christian churches because they enjoyed the music and the fellowship and the community service programs and the Bible studies more. If these other churches have all these good, Christian things, why stay Catholic?

    Answer: the Eucharist. You can read about Jesus in the Bible, and you can do good works for Jesus, and you can sing and praise Him, but only in the Eucharist do we KNOW him intimately with our bodies and our souls. It is truly the center of the Catholic life of faith and the place where that consecration takes place needs to reflect the reality of what is happening at the Mass – the saving sacrifice of Jesus on the cross made real materially and spiritually.

    Yes, the “water slide Jesus” needs to go.

  6. I know changes are hard for folks, and what Fr Robert is trying to make obvious to us by beautifying the Church and relocating the tabernacle is the centrality of the Eucharist.

    Why do you go to Church? Is it for the priest, the community, friends, or fear of hell?

    It matters not who the priest is, where he is from, or how funny and articulate he is or isn’t. Priests are gifts to us, given by God to make available the Sacraments for us and lead us to God. Catholic means “universal”. Our holy priests, are from various parts of Africa and Burma and have been called here, away from their home and families, to serve us and to remind us of the beauty of all of God’s people. What sacrifices they make to be here with us.

    I’ve watched for over 13 years as people have walked by the tabernacle not knowing Who is present there, conversations take place in front of the tabernacle after masses, oblivious of who is praying there or the inappropriate nature of their conversations. Parishioners genuflect to an altar and walk by the Lord because of the odd placement of the tabernacle. Some people joke and snicker at the “big footed Jesus” and the “cankles.”

    The “founders” are not “the Founder” of the One, Holy, Catholic Church- that is Jesus Christ Himself. We are not a democracy, and liturgical things are not up for debate and banter among the parishioners. How inappropriate and sad to hear that the “founders are pissed and threatening to leave” Then they DON’T GET IT AT ALL! It’s not about them, their choice, and their preferences. It’s about surrender and trust in God and the one that has been prayerfully chosen to stand in the place of pastor here by the Bishop- a holy, humble, and prayerful man that I know and have immense respect for.

    As Catholics we are called to be obedient, faithful, and trust like little children that Jesus knows what he is doing and in whom He places in positions of authority in HIS Church.

    “The poor you will always have with you” (Matt 26:11) and this parish has a long and generous history of giving. We can’t do it all and be there for everyone- that is why EACH OF US is called to love our neighbor and do for them personally. It’s about us going forth from the mass and being Christ to one another.

    So the question I think we need to ask is why do these little things bother us so much? Pride perhaps? A lack of trust or detachment perhaps? Ignorance of the beauty and genius of Catholicism (Matthew Kelly)? What then? God is in charge, we need only to surrender and be obediently faithful. It’s that easy.
    “So let us give God our sincere and deepest gratitude, and, as far as human weakness will permit, let us turn to the Lord with pure hearts. With all our strength, let us seek God’s singular mercy, for then the Divine Goodness will surely hear our prayers. God’s power will drive the Evil One from our acts and thoughts; it will deepen our faith, govern our minds, grant us holy thoughts, and lead us, finally, to share the divine happiness through God’s own son Jesus Christ. Amen! (St Augustine, Sermon 272)

  7. Doesn’t do much good to go to Mass if you can’t understand the Priests! I can’t blame any foreign Priest to leave their dirt holes for the fine life we offer them in America. Nice housing, vehicles, salary etc. when I grew up we had little Irish Priests who basically lived a very modest life. I can see some basic modifications, but not $750,000.00 worth!

  8. Jose, I can only assume you are a long time parishioner based on some of your comments & that saddens me the most. All these years and you’ve missed the message of love.
    To say that it “doesn’t do much good to go to mass if you don’t understand the priest” is in fact an erroneous statement. I have gone to mass all over the world, as many others have, assuming I get nothing from the mass because I don’t understand the language places limits on God’s capacity to transcend all things. We receive or thwart the fullness of what happens there by our own limits and failure to enter into the celebration of the mystery that is taking place on the altar.

    The mass makes real that sacrifice made “once for all” by Christ Jesus over 2000 yrs ago. Heaven meets earth in the Divine liturgy. Christ shows up despite the fact that we may be distracted, obstinate, sinful. The receptivity and disposition of our hearts makes all the difference in the grace conferred.
    When people let things like the music, the homily, the priest and various other distractions get in the way, they reduce the Liturgy to parts and people. It’s so much more than that, God is so much more.

    Homilies change, priests come and go, Christ is the one constant. The reason we come, and the reason we stay.

    As far as your mean-spirited, unchristian comment about leaving their “dirt holes”, shame on you! If my job required that I move to say, Saudi Arabia, but that I would be paid more, and I would live in a palace compared to what I lived in now– I just would have to leave my family, country, and way of life to go to a place where I would be called names, disrespected, & treated with disdain- then I would say forget it.

    These men leave all that is precious to them, obediently following where God calls them, and with JOY and great love serve our community. How blessed are we!!!

  9. The “State of the Church” set up was a real joke. The microphone should have been passed around inside the church, not out in the cold with cookies and coffee. Several of the founders were ready to ask why all the changes beyond what was originally presented. The church is perfectly beautiful in every way. Ok so move the Tabernacle! The choir has issues but no one cares. We have greater needs in the community outreach than a big grandeur remodel. Also people are “pissed” because the word got out that a statement was made that out of respect to Ft. Joe the big remodel should be delayed. Go to the so called Millinials and get your funds. Also you se all these Baptisms and the participants are one time attendees. Lock them in and make the commit to being active.

  10. Your emails lack love or a desire to come to a deeper understanding of what is hoped for. Rumors and wrong info was rampant. People who were entrusted with info regarding the project spoke out of turn, which further inflamed the situation. There is nothing I can say here that will quell obstinate minds or hearts.
    I am sorry for the pain, frustration, anger, misunderstanding or anything else out of our control. I will only continue to pray that the God who is love can take this situation and pour out His abundant grace to bring peace to those who are so troubled.

  11. So spend some money towards some speech coaching for the all the new foreign priests. People are concerned but won’t speak up. Catholic’s are like sheep! Go along to get along.


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