St. Mary Magdalene, Apex

A place for children

St. Mary Magdalene church and school in Apex don't look like most other parish complexes in the Diocese of Raleigh. The award winning architecture is contemporary: Oblong towers with skylights project from a more familiar brick structure, but past the entry the foyer opens on a stunning indoor court, the floor one story below, the ceiling another story above. There is a small chapel to the right, but Sunday Mass is held in the school's state-of-the-art gymnasium. It can easily accommodate 1500 worshippers.

St. Mary Magdalene came about in response to the population explosion west and southwest of Raleigh. By 1997, land had been purchased in Apex and in west Cary in anticipation of perhaps two new parishes. Meanwhile St. Michael and St. Andrew were jointly trying to raise funds for a new school. Fr. Don Staib, the founding pastor of St. Mary Magdalene, returned in 1997 from a sabbatical in Vietnam, and he had expressed a willingness to start a new parish. He joined in the fundraising, which resulted in the beginning of construction at St. Mary Magdalene and a new school at St. Michael. Although St. Mary Magdalene was "conceived" in 1997, Fr. Staib says, there were delays in actually getting established on the site. The first Mass was not celebrated there until 2000.

Fr. Staib shows me around the campus, we're surrounded by the sound of children at work and play. One courtyard of the school contains a small greenhouse, as well as a garden which the school children tend. Besides the impressive gym, there is a beautiful soccer field on the grounds. St. Mary Magdalene is a frequent venue for the Carolina Catholic Athletic Association (http://www.carolinacaa.org/), which provides youth athletic programs and summer camps for parishes in the diocese.

"The uniqueness of St. Mary Magdalene," the pastor says, "is our youth. We're 48% children. The last time we counted, there were only 42 parishioners older than I am (71). Although we have 1200 families, we had first communions in 1 of 9 of them last year. When I hear kids' confessions there are more than 600 – I break it up into groups over a couple of weeks. We have only about two funerals a year."

One wonders if the future will bring more parishes like St. Mary Magdalene. Sensing the buoyancy and busyness of this young community, that seems like a very good future indeed.

- Rich Reece