By Celine Klosterman
CORALVILLE — St. Thomas More’s name is on the church’s front, furniture has been moved in, and a cross beckons to passing drivers.
In two days, the Iowa City parish will celebrate the first Mass in its new church building in north Coralville. Bishop Martin Amos will preside at the dedication liturgy, slated for Nov. 14 at 4 p.m. at 3000 12th Ave.
St. Thomas More’s new building, constructed for about $5 million, includes a 500-seat worship space, offices and an initially-unfinished lower level to be used for religious education, meetings and large gatherings.
Size of the main level is 13,500 square feet, with another 10,000 square feet of space in the lower level. The building doesn’t include a rectory; Father Walter Helms, pastor, will continue living in a house near the current church.
The parish is relocating to better serve Catholics in a quickly growing area known as the North Corridor, which includes North Liberty and Coralville. A priest shortage prevents creating a new parish there, and after years of discussion of how to best serve the area, Bishop William Franklin in 2005 instructed St. Thomas More to move.
In January the parish will close on the sale of its current church building, home to St. Thomas More since 1967. The University of Iowa will pay $1.4 million for the 36,000-square-foot property and building, which it is already remodeling for music department purposes including offices and student practice rooms.
Though a business that was to buy the parish center backed out, sale is now pending to a different private developer, said John LePeau, steering committee chair.
One small success the parish achieved recently was raising $14,000 to repair, refurbish and move the statue of its namesake, commissioned for the existing church property in 1967, to the Coralville site. The figure of St. Thomas More will likely be placed in a garden there come spring, LePeau said.
More recently, St. Thomas More celebrated its last Mass Nov. 8 in a banquet hall at Brown Deer Golf Club in Coralville, ending a Sunday tradition that began in June 2006. About 300 people had attended those weekly Masses, designed to serve Catholics in the Coralville area during construction of St. Thomas More’s new church building.
Since those Masses began, one or two families joined the parish each week, LePeau said. St. Thomas More now has about 765 families.
Brown Deer Golf Club will host at least one more St. Thomas More event, however. After the dedication Mass, a fundraising dinner and silent auction will take place at the club at 7 p.m. to raise money to finish the new church’s lower level. LePeau said the parish doesn’t yet have a final figure for that project’s cost, but “we want to have all the funds in hand before work begins.”
In years to come, St. Thomas More plans to begin three more construction projects: adding a larger worship space to seat a total of 1,000 people, building a social hall with expanded office space, a full kitchen and lower level, and completing a religious education building. Future needs will determine which construction project will begin first, LePeau said.