By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
DEWITT — When the original 1950s wooden bleachers at St. Joseph Catholic School were replaced recently, parish and school families had the opportunity to take pieces of the bleachers home. One parishioner, Alicia Burken, decided to carve Nativity displays out of the wood for a parish fundraiser as Advent began this year.
The displays caught the eye of Father Paul Connolly, pastor of St. Joseph Parish. He thought it might make a perfect gift for an old friend who helped make those bleachers a reality for the school, Father Thomas Stratman, a retired priest of the Davenport Diocese. “I thought it might have sentimental value for him,” Fr. Connolly said.
His intuition was correct; upon receiving the gift, Fr. Stratman’s memories of the bleachers came back clearly. He found it hard to believe that nearly 60 years had passed since they were first installed.
Fr. Stratman was assistant pastor of St. Joseph Parish at the time the school was built in the 1950s. He recalls that the bleachers were not part of the capital campaign; it was necessary to solicit additional donations to build them. He had the idea to host a fundraiser basketball game at $10 a ticket, which he said was a lot of money at the time. Additionally, a car would be raffled.
Since the community had already made sacrifices to build the school, he wasn’t sure the fundraiser would be successful. But on game day, he looked up and saw a “packed house.” The fundraiser generated the $8,000 to $10,000 needed to pay for the bleachers. “People were so generous,” he recalled.
Burken, whose children are third-generation students at St. Joe’s, said the school’s sesquicentennial this year sparked the idea for the Nativity displays. She hoped they would bring back memories for those with a connection to St. Joe’s. “It was something people might want because it was a part of the school.”
Fr. Stratman, for one, thought it was a “marvelous and unique idea to preserve the memory of the bleachers.”
So far, Burken has sold 10 of her 13 Nativity displays, with proceeds helping to fund a parish trip to National Catholic Youth Conference in 2015.
For more information about the Nativity scenes contact Alicia Burken at (563) 847-1070.