By Celine Klosterman
RIVERSIDE — With the dedication of a building offering classrooms, offices and meeting space, St. Mary Parish celebrated a milestone in its ministry of faith formation.
About 330 people attended a ceremony for the education and conference center Aug. 14, during which Bishop Martin Amos blessed the 9,800-square-foot building and prayed that Catholics would be educated there for years to come.
Just as parishioners’ ancestors planned for the education of their children and grandchildren at St. Mary’s, parishioners have made steps to provide for future generations, said Denny Bush, parish trustee.
With 12 classrooms, the two-level building replaced a deteriorating, 120-year-old former convent that was torn down to make room for a 50-space parking lot next to the education and conference center. In addition to holding religious education classes and parish meetings, the center includes showers for overnight retreats and space for social outreach programs.
The center is attached to St. Mary’s Hall, whose interior was remodeled this year. Partitions in the hall were removed to offer one large space for wedding receptions, funeral dinners and community events. About 225 people can now sit comfortably in the hall, which was the parish’s church from 1876 to 1906, said Jim Rose, member of St. Mary’s parish council and building committee. In an effort to preserve a historical element of the hall, St. Mary’s retained three interior walls bearing signatures, dating from 1927 to 1960, of graduates of the former parish school.
Total cost for the new building, hall renovation, new parking lot and removal of the former convent was about $1.3 million, Rose said. Parishioners have pledged as much in a five-year campaign.
The building was completed in July, about a year after a groundbreaking ceremony.
“What a blessing it is for all of us to be here this day,” said Father Rich Adam, who served at St. Mary’s from 2001 to August 1. “When Bishop Amos assigns his priests, he wants us to foster the faith in each community. We do that by word and example, faith formation classes, prayer and much more. I pray this building will provide the facility and environment to enrich the faith of Riverside and all who use these facilities.”
Fr. Adam and Father Jack Gallagher, St. Mary’s pastor from 1995-98, concelebrated a Mass at which Bishop Amos served as celebrant Aug. 14. Father Marty Goetz, who currently shepherds St. Mary’s 330 families, served as master of ceremonies.
Rose said the parish is proud of the “good learning environment” the new building offers. “It’s safe, well lit, warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It will really enhance the education of our children.”