By Celine Klosterman
CORALVILLE — After years of borrowing space from local businesses, St. Thomas More Parish’s religious education program has a place to call home.
Last week, more than 250 students met in the lower level of their parish’s new church in Coralville for the first time. In recent years, they had met in North Liberty at Centro, Inc., a plastics manufacturer, and the Education Station Child Development Center to better serve area families and ease a space crunch at the Iowa City parish center. St. Thomas More relocated from Iowa City in November.
“It’s such a wonderful feeling” to unite students at the new church, said Deacon Ed Goldsmith. He’s been St. Thomas More’s director of religious education for three years. “…We can do so much more with kids in our own building.”
Resources and equipment such as VCRs and projectors now can stay in one location, and he said he can thus focus more on helping teachers than on setting up classrooms. “For the past three years, I’ve been more of a facilitator than an educator.”
Deacon Goldsmith said meeting at St. Thomas More also helps students form roots at their parish. “The kids identify with where they go to religious education.” He noted that when St. Thomas More was holding Masses at Brown Deer Golf Club in Coralville before the new church was built, one young student said his parish was “St. Brown Deer.”
The religious education program’s move marks its last relocation. Several years ago, it began holding most classes at Centro in North Liberty, a growing community near where St. Thomas More was moving. Some classes continued at the Iowa City parish center, whose sale is now pending for $575,000 to a private family. But Deacon Goldsmith said the center couldn’t have held all the students, whose numbers were growing quickly.
Centro eventually sought to remodel its building, though. So classes moved to the Education Station, which offered space rent-free.
St. Thomas More planned for students to eventually meet in the lower level of its new church. But at the time of the dedication Mass Nov. 14, the parish didn’t have enough funds in hand to complete the 8,500-square-foot space. However, a “Celebration with Friends” dinner and auction after the dedication Mass, plus supporters’ donations, brought in about $68,000 for the project.
Klosterman Construction in Coralville and numerous parishioners volunteered services. Most construction was completed by Ash Wednesday, when about 200 people attended a soup supper in the lower level.
Carpeting and ceilings have yet to be finished, but St. Thomas More delayed those projects until summer so religious education classes could begin March 1.
More fundraisers will take place to further improve the space; the parish hopes to hold its Celebration with Friends event annually, said Len Duncan. He and Brian Manternach co-coordinated the Lower Level Steering Committee.
The space, which includes nine classrooms and a large gathering area, will hold adult faith formation groups, RCIA classes, wedding receptions, funeral meals and other events.
And for religious education students and other users, it represents more than a physical building, Deacon Goldsmith suggested. “Our faith is such that kids need a solid place to call their spiritual home.”