Jim Vallet, For the Fernley Reporter
About a half mile south of Fernley High School off U.S. 95A sits St. Robert Bellarmine Catholic Church.
Established in 1957 as a Catholic Mission, services were originally held in the Community Church in Wadsworth by priests from surrounding areas. In 1959, ground was broken at the corner of Cedar and West Streets in Fernley, and in March 1960, Bishop Robert J. Dwyer dedicated the new church and gave the parish the name of his own patron.
Over the years, the area grew and changed, and so did St. Robert Bellarmine. Religious education for children began in 1963, and a rectory was built in 1965. Later, a new hall was added to the rectory for religious education and other activities. The parish more than tripled from 90 families in 1993 to 320 registered families in 2004, and was fast outgrowing its location. So, in 2010, construction began on the present site on Desert Shadows Lane. By April, 2011, the Parish was able to celebrate Easter Sunday in its new location, which was formally dedicated in May 2011 by Bishop Randolph R. Calvo.
Today, the 21,000 square foot building houses the church, lobby, offices, classrooms, a food pantry, and a religious gift shop. A separate building that serves as the rectory is only steps away. The current pastor, Rev. Justin Lazar, has only been here for “…about 10 days…”, and celebrated his first masses as St. Robert’s pastor last Saturday and Sunday, July 6 and 7. St. Robert Bellarmine Catholic Church serves the communities of Fernley, Wadsworth, Silver Springs and Hazen. In addition, the Parish has a mission church, St. Joseph the Worker, in Empire.
St. Robert’s former pastor Rev. Joseph Infante described the parish mission statement as, “St. Robert Bellarmine Catholic Community, empowered by the Holy Spirit, directed by the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Proclaims the Good News of God the Father’s love and celebrates the Good News in the word and sacrament to build a strong faith community and to serve the Church, our neighbors, and the world.” Besides serving the spiritual needs of its parishioners, St. Robert serves the community by acting in cooperation with other entities to offer a free food pantry to anyone who qualifies. There are rummage sales for the purpose of reusing unwanted items to some people, by people who do want and need these items. There are free music lessons, on, “…practically any instrument…” available to anyone. The parish sponsors a Boy and Cub Scout Troop, as well as American Heritage Girls. The local Knights of Columbus is involved in many community activities (such as helping people with chores, moving, and hospital and home visits). The Knights also sponsor a pancake breakfast once a month. The Parish supports many seminarian causes and holds religious education during the school year for about 100 children, ages K-12. But the classrooms do not just sit empty the rest of the week as St. Robert also allows home school groups to use the classrooms. The Parish supports the San Francisco Walk for Life, and provided help during the Paradise Fire. On top of all that community involvement, people can call the Parish office for help when needed.
St. Robert Bellarmine’s new pastor, Rev. Justin Lazar, was born in Triuandoum, Kerala, India. Fr. Lazar’s parents have five children, and three of them are Catholic priests. Father Lazar speaks seven languages and obtained his early education entirely in India. He became a priest in 2004 and spent seven years in Rome studying the Bible at the University of Angelicum. After coming to the United States in 2015. Father Lazar spent time in two Reno parishes before coming to Fernley.
Father Lazar would like everyone to know that, “All are welcome here, not just Catholics.” As far as the many things the Parish does to help the community, the Fernley neophyte says, “People who cannot sustain themselves, we take care of.” Father Lazar also wants all to know that St. Robert Bellarmine also offers a weekly mass in Spanish, and has a vibrant Spanish-speaking community within the Parish.
Visiting the church buildings on a Thursday morning, at a time when many Catholic churches are deserted, St. Robert Bellarmine was a beehive of activity. Many were there for the Food Pantry, but there were lots of other people there, too. There were church volunteer office workers, volunteer maintenance people, as well as several persons who seemed to be looking around. There was a loveseat outside the main door with the message, “Free or with donation”. The classrooms and other rooms were full of all sorts of furniture for the rummage sales. There were people standing in line at the Food Pantry. There was a lot going on, but everyone seemed to be happy. The feeling was one of welcoming.
Like its mission statement proclaims, St. Robert Bellarmine is there to spread to Word of the Lord, and to help the community. The church buildings, in order to follow the mission statement, should be used for religious activities and to make this community a better place to live for everyone. Certainly, at the risk of chaos and some mess, St. Robert Bellarmine makes Fernley and the surrounding communities a better place for all of us to live.