By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
GRINNELL — Blue arches contrasted the creamy white ceiling in the sanctuary of St. Mary Church. Marbled vinyl tile gleamed as the sun shone through sparkling stained glass, illuminating the faces of parishioners celebrating the church’s renovations and a new parish center and gathering space.
After the Mass of Dedication on May 19, the crowd assembled for a photo on the church steps with Bishop Thomas Zinkula. The joy was palpable. Even a tired toddler couldn’t help but smile when it came time to take the picture. Later, everyone headed to the new parish hall to enjoy refreshments.
The renovations and addition were completed around Ash Wednesday. The parish celebrated on May 19 during Mass and an open house with Bishop Zinkula, who offered his blessing.
Parishioners said they couldn’t believe that the project was finally completed. Although construction lasted only a few months and finished earlier than expected, the campaign had been a dream for years, said Joe Bagnoli, building project committee chairperson. The main goal was for all structures to be on the same side of the street. Having the education center across the street from the church was a safety concern for children and adults, and lugging equipment from one building to the other was time consuming.
This dream seemed impossible, initially, because the church did not own the adjacent lot. Things started to come together about three years ago, when Grinnell College offered to give St. Mary’s the property in exchange for the education building.
The $3.2 million campaign featured a new parish hall, gathering space, offices, classrooms and an elevator large enough to fit a casket. Church renovations were included in the budget. The basement was altered to make more classrooms and the church, nave, sanctuary, choir loft and stained glass were spruced up. St. Mary’s is currently at 90 percent of its campaign goal, with most of that money in-hand, said Kathy Utech, building campaign fundraising committee chairperson.
Parishioners helped to reduce costs by doing some of the labor themselves. Volunteers removed the pews, tore up carpeting and replaced the subfloor in the nave. Parishioner Joan Brand-Landkamer wrote an icon, which will be placed near the baptistry.
The updated interior is “breathtaking,” said the parish’s pastor, Father Ron Hodges. “Some have said the beauty of the church brought tears to their eyes when they first saw it.”
Bishop Zinkula said the new facilities are gorgeous, but more than that, they can be used to help the parish share in the three-fold mission of Christ — priest, prophet and king. The gathering space can be used to “welcome people lovingly and … draw the faithful together,” thus living out the priestly mission. The prophetic mission will be lived out in the new classrooms, which “will be used for teaching the truth, helping clear up confusion about what the church teaches and what the church believes.” Finally, the kingly mission will be realized in the new office spaces, where administrators will help with sacramental preparations, funeral planning and other matters.
In recent months, parishioners have seen how the new facilities have helped the parish in this mission. Knights of Columbus hosted their fish fries in the parish hall during Lent. Fr. Hodges noted that they experienced record attendance — and had plenty of room to accommodate everyone.
Now that the facilities are connected, religious education classes begin and end with prayer in the chapel. “The kids have enjoyed that,” said Crystal DeNeve, the parish’s director of Religious Education.
Tony Mannat, whose donation covered the entire hall portion of the campaign in memory of his parents, Merlin and Verna, participated in the celebration. He grew up attending Mass at St. Mary’s with his family and now lives in the DeWitt area. He said he was grateful to be able to give back to the parish that provided a strong faith foundation for him and his family. He is thrilled to see that mission continue at St. Mary’s, aided by the addition and renovations. “It just fills me with joy from the tip of my feet to the top of my head.”
About the icon
St. Mary’s new icon, which will sit on a shelf near the baptistry, has three panels. The triptych center shows the baptism of Jesus. The left side symbolizes charity, with images of St. Theresa of Kolkata and past parishioners performing charitable works. The right side represents the prayer life of the church and includes an image of St. Benedict, as well as current clergy at the parish.