Reviewing project components

There’s a photo of our church in the archives of the Wisconsin Historical Society taken in 1918, the year its construction was completed. As you can see our neighborhood was pretty desolate then: a kind of scrubby pine tree on one corner, what might be a house where the university’s science building is being built. The new hospital would have been across the street. There are no paved roads nor stained glass windows. There’s no sacristy on one end nor enclosed stairway on the other; indeed, a doorway near the main entrance doesn’t have steps at all.

There was a church in which this new community of believers could gather for worship, certainly an extraordinary accomplishment and indication of faithfulness, sacrifice and generosity. But the project wasn’t finished, by any means. It still isn’t.

There have been additions and renovations over the years, prompted by obvious need and changing priorities and understanding. New buildings were added to the campus. An earlier school and convent have already been replaced or removed. This is recognition that a parish is a living, evolving entity, and the church it occupies evolves as well.

That reality was evident Dec. 14 when nearly 40 parishioners gathered to review initial suggestions for what will likely be the latest enhancement, improvement, modification and expansion of that church constructed on such a firm foundation nearly 100 years ago. There were lots of ideas, building upon earlier recommendations of the Unification Facilities Committee and Pastoral Council, and little disagreement as to what should be included in a parish building project.

The more significant items for which there was overwhelming support included a covered entry point where people could be dropped off for Mass, additional parking, a parish center with sufficient offices for all parish staff members, meeting rooms for groups of various sizes, lounge and library space, a ramp providing accessibility to the main altar platform for people with limited mobility, painting the interior of the church, and a permanent baptismal font appropriate to the dignity of the church’s first sacrament. A project could also entail renovating Kostka Hall for more diverse uses, such as dividing up the space to accommodate religious education classes.

Dominating any parish project would be a gathering space that would ideally be the primary place for entering and leaving the church. It would be where we mingle before Mass and socialize and purchase gift cards after Mass, where funeral visitations occur, where we hang our coats, and find handicapped accessible restrooms; where parents bring fussy children and overflow crowds are seated. As imagined in the group’s conversation, the gathering space would flow into a larger all-purpose room where the Spirit Breakfast Café, funeral lunches and similar receptions would be held.

Some of what’s being proposed would replace facilities currently in use. It’s envisioned that all the office and program space at the Newman Center would be relocated to the main parish campus, and that building would be sold. In addition, questions have been raised as to the long-term viability of the rectory, since it is not easily accessible nor well-suited as an office and is a rather expansive facility for one priest to live. Furthermore, the parish also owns a pastor’s residence on Prentice Street. Removing the rectory is something that the Unification Facilities Committee and Pastoral Council had recommended and is being considered in conjunction with this project.

Obviously, there are lots of details to sort through, first for the architectural consultant, Gary Kucko of Eau Claire, and then for members of the parish. Gary and the group that gathered three weeks ago will reconvene this week to continue the process with some more specific possibilities as to what and where, as well as approximate dollar amounts. There is still much to consider and discuss and discern before any final decisions or recommendations are offered. And much more information will be presented in reports such as this, as well as parishioner gatherings. Watch an upcoming bulletin for an update.

                 — Fr. Tom Lindner