Pastors Jeremiah Menyongai and Faimatta Menyongai at Christ Jubilee Ministries.Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
Pastors Jeremiah Menyongai and Faimatta Menyongai at Christ Jubilee Ministries.

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

By Debbie Hovanasian

sunfaith@comcast.net

LOWELL -- Former parishioners of the now-closed Notre Dame de Lourdes Parish, which was founded in 1908 to serve the Franco-American community in the South Common neighborhood, must breathe a sigh of relief when they pass their former Smith Street church.

While it is devastating to experience the closing of a beloved parish, as Notre Dame parishioners did during the reconfiguration of the Archdiocese of Boston in 2004, it's been equally difficult for parishioners to see their former churches demolished. Such was the plan for the Notre Dame church until there was a change of course.

A Sun story about the church at Christ Jubilee Ministries on Smith Street in Lowell. 	SUN photos by David H. BrowSun staff photos can be ordered by
A Sun story about the church at Christ Jubilee Ministries on Smith Street in Lowell. SUN photos by David H. Brow

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
The beige brick church still stands and Jesus Christ is still vibrantly worshipped within its four walls and beyond.

After the parish closing and sale of the property, the church was scheduled to be razed for condominiums. Meanwhile, the growing Christ Jubilee International Ministries was looking to purchase land in Dracut to build a new church for its growing multi-cultural community, which started in 1999 with a meeting of 17 people at Lowell General Hospital.

Two decisions made around the same time determined the church's future path. The contractor decided to sell rather than raze the church, and Christ Jubilee concluded that the projected construction costs of an expansive new church, whose plans were already drawn by an architect, had grown beyond their budget.


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By 2007, the Notre Dame church was void of its religious artifacts and furnishings, including the pews and stained glass windows. It had been damaged during the process, but it was for sale. Christ Jubilee still needed a larger worship space than their former Gorham Street location. The rest is Christ Jubilee history.

"Other buyers were interested in it, but he (the contractor) thought we'd make best use of it," said Faimatta Menyongai, pastor along with her husband, Jeremiah Menyongai Jr. "Former Notre Dame parishioners still come by and tell us they are so happy it was not broken down."

Today, the church serves between 300 and 400 worshippers each Sunday, Jeremiah Menyongai said. They come from Lowell and various Greater Lowell communities, and as far away as Rindge, N.H.

Inside their church, there's an eclectic blend of old and new. There's a new front platform, but it is still framed by the church's original altar backdrop of 12 golden flames of fire representing the 12 Apostles and the dove, representing the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. There's a new pulpit and space for the praise band and choir. Clear windows replace the stained-glass that had been removed, and carpet has replaced the tile. A baptismal room with a full-immersion baptismal pool has been added.

The confessionals on each side of the sanctuary still stand, but are repurposed for coat space. Where wooden pews once stood, rows of modern, padded chairs are lined up in a similar format.

What endures among the changes are similarities, most especially a love for Jesus Christ and a community that strives to follow His teachings, including reaching out to those in need, said Jeremiah.

Christ Jubilee operates a food pantry two Fridays a month, stocked by donations from local businesses, its congregants and the Merrimack Valley Food Bank. Between 60 and 100 individuals or families come each Friday, most of them from the neighborhood who have no affiliation with the church.

Mission-minded, Christ Jubilee is buying land in its pastors' native Liberia with intentions of building a church, school, orphanage and hospital or clinic, Jeremiah said.

More immediately, dozens of children from a variety of cultures attend the six-week summer program starting July 7. For a minimal cost of $50, children participate in academics, led by teachers from the Lowell Career Center and other volunteers, art, recreation, spirituality, field trips and social activities -- Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The goal, Jeremiah said, is to keep the kids engaged and not idle -- and it's a help to parents.

At the camp, a nutritious free lunch is served every day in conjunction with the Merrimack Valley Food Bank's USDA Summer Food Service Program. 

The busy Menyongai family will have a presence at the summer program. Natives of Liberia who were displaced temporarily to Ghana in 1992 by their country's civil war, the family immigrated to the United States in 1998 with their children, Faimmiah, then 6, and, Jeremiah III, then 1.

Formerly a university lecturer, Jeremiah Jr., was employed at Lowell City Hall as records manager with the Building Department while also pursuing a calling to serve God -- one that began in Ghana, where he was licensed as a pastor. Later ordained in Chelmsford, he uses his strong educational background to help improve the lives of others. Among the programs offered at the church are immigration counseling, health awareness, educational seminars and counseling.

In September, their daughter Faimmiah starts her senior year at the UMass Lowell, with plans of pursuing law school. Jeremiah III, a member of the National Honor Society, starts his senior year at Lowell High School with intentions of becoming an engineer. They've each been actively involved in church life and service, said Jeremiah Jr., who credits his children's success to the "stability" of being raised in a faith-filled church community.

While Jeremiah, Jr. and Faimatta acknowledge that there are days they hardly sit down, they are happy to open the church's doors to welcome others, just as Notre Dame de Lourdes did for years before. The United States and Lowell have been very good to them, they said, and they want to give back.

"Our church is open to those who have a heart to serve God," said Jeremiah Jr., now a full-time pastor at the church. "It's a multi-national church, and everyone is welcome here."

For more information on the summer program or the church services, call 978-452-9977 or visit www.christjubilee.com.