The new Notre Dame d'Haiti church in Little Haiti opened this past weekend. But fundraising for it began eight years ago.
For the church’s pastor, Father Reginald Jean-Mary, the process has been much longer than that.
"It began 35 years ago when Archbishop [Thomas] Wenski, [back then] Father Wenski, established this mission," Jean-Mary says. "Because at that time what you could say was that this was the 'church of the living stone' because of the people. Who built that church? The people."
The church cost $5 million to build, with $3.2 million donated by Haitian parishioners and community members. The Archdiocese of Miami helped out with a loan of $1.5 million, which will be paid back through donations from parishioners and other donors.
Jean Souffrant has been a parishioner at the church since he was 13.
"When Father Reggie came and launched this crazy idea of building a brand-new church, it was just that: crazy -- because we’re part of a community that is very poor, very marginalized in some ways, with very limited income," Souffrant says. "And yet we saw the possibility of building something this great, something this beautiful."
Last Saturday, for its first mass, the church was surrounded by 3,000 people trying to get in, although the building only seats just fewer than 1,400.
The mass was led by Archbishop Wenski, the one Jean-Mary credits with helping establish the church.
The new building is an improvement from the Notre Dame Academy cafeteria next door, where the church has held services for 35 years.
Now the parishioners can celebrate mass surrounded by stained-glass windows instead of cinder blocks.