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St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church continues to grow

Father Joe Tonos conducting theological research. Photo by Caroline Nihill


Father Joe Tonos conducting theological research. Photo by Caroline Nihill.

Caroline Nihill
Oxford Stories
crnihil1@go.olemiss.edu

St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Oxford is growing and expanding.

In the past year, the church at 403 University Ave., has been renovated to add space for more mass attendees. There are approximately 400 families within the parish, and the building had limited space.

Father Joe Tonos said turning people away isn’t what the Catholic Church or St. John is about.

“This is probably to me one of the better situations to be in because it is Oxford,” he said. “There are very few communities that are outstanding right now because of the economy and other factors. This is one of the places where you can have the universe at your door if you ask me.”

Tonos said he’s dedicated to guiding his parish toward the light of God and living a better life. He was ordained in 1994 and attended an international seminary in the Archdiocese of Chicago that offered scholarships. He later served in a few parishes before becoming St. John the Evangelist’s pastor in 2004.

“The call to the priesthood, in just real general terms for me, kind of worked itself out that there was nothing else that I could imagine that I would be happy doing other than what a priest does,” Tonos said.

Tonos uses homilies to keep St. John parishioners updated and aware of things happening inside the church, even if that news involves national scandals. From sexual abuse to embezzling, Tonos is honest.

“I think the scandal in the Church is an opportunity for people to really do what Vatican Council II said – the Church is the people,” he said.

Recent sexual abuse allegations of minors and vulnerable adults within the Catholic Church has made some skeptical. Though this may turn people away from Catholicism, Tonos has faith some will stay for the betterment of the Church.

He said those who do are staying because of faith and worship. He encourages conversations and differences. He believes everyone is a disciple of Christ and should be treated as such.

St. John the Evangelist Church. Photo by Caroline Nihill
St. John the Evangelist Church. Photo by Caroline Nihill

Part of fostering conversation includes events that bring people together within the parish. After mass on Sunday evenings at 5:30 p.m., the church offers a $2 spaghetti dinner for the public.

St. John holds a rosary walk at Lamar Park Thursdays at 4:30 p.m. And every Wednesday night at Juva at 8 p.m., St. John provides smoothies and a guest speaker to all college students.

Vidi Olivi, lay campus minister, heads many these events and mission trips. She works primarily with the campus ministry and leads student-based events.

“We have lots of stuff going on, and it’s all student led,” she said. “You have to be open, and you have to put yourself out there. You’ve gotta start somewhere. If you want to get involved, but are feeling shy, get plugged in with a Bible study. It’s a great way to start to meet people in smaller groups.”

All are welcome to worship at the church.

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