Sep 232009

An image shows a proposed addition, at right, to St. Mary Parish Hall in Riverside.

By Celine Klosterman

RIVERSIDE — After years in need of better facilities for parish functions, St. Mary Parish has launched a campaign for an updated building.

The Riverside congregation kicked off a $2 million, five-year campaign, “Reflections of our Past, Visions of our Future,” on Sept. 20 for an addition to its current hall. The addition will provide 12 classrooms for faith formation and catechetical programs, offices, space for retreats, local social outreach programs, and community and Davenport Diocese meetings.

“We are here today to embark on an exciting adventure that will be recorded in history for our future generations to share,” Dee Simon, parish council president, told parishioners at the event center at the Riverside Casino and Golf Resort.

According to current plans, those generations will gather in a two-level, 9,800-square-foot building with a library, kitchen, patio, locker rooms for overnight retreats, zero-step entry and space for the Riverside Food Pantry and Share Iowa program. Plans also call for the current hall to be remodeled to create a 250-person gathering area and for more parking.

The addition will replace a 120-year-old former convent that currently houses religious education classes. Simon said that convent has plumbing issues and a hole in the roof; both the convent and the current hall suffer from heating and cooling problems, and the hall is plagued by electrical issues. She added that current classrooms are too few and too small.

“It’s hard to keep kids’ attention in such close quarters,” said Betty Thomann, longtime parishioner and religious education teacher, in a project endorsement.

Parishioner Shelly Michel said she’s taught many winter classes with her coat on because classrooms were so cold. “We need to give (children) a better learning environment,” she said.

Parishioner Tim Engel agreed. “It is very important for our youth to be able to learn about their faith, grow in their faith, and continue their faith for a lifetime and not just up until they are confirmed,” he said. He suggested that with a place youths could call their own they may become more active in the church.

Father Rich Adam said that since he began serving at St. Mary’s in 2001, parishioners have told him the parish needed a new building. “But I kept my head in the sand,” he joked.

Now, the diocese considers the parish’s need great enough that it has given St. Mary’s permission to launch a campaign — even as most parishes have been asked to hold off on running a capital campaign until the diocese has finished actively fundraising for its capital campaign.

St. Mary’s parish campaign includes a goal of $100,000 for the diocese’s capital campaign.

Fr. Adam acknowledged concerns about fundraising in the lagging economy, but said construction costs may be cheaper because of it.

St. Mary’s hopes construction will begin this spring and that the addition will be dedicated in 2011.

In a keynote address, Msgr. John Hyland, diocesan vicar general, reflected on the challenges, dedication and sacrifice Catholics showed in building St. Mary Church more than a century ago. He said he hoped parishioners would show the same strength and faith in the near future and help keep the faith alive for their descendants.

“With faith, prayers and some grunt work, we can succeed,” Thomann said. “The spirit is alive and well at St. Mary’s.”

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