All together now

Community spirit carries new Wetmore church


by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org 

WETMORE — At St. James Parish here, people have a tradition of working together. the blessing and groundbreaking for the new church on Sept. 5 was an excellent example of this community spirit.

No sooner had Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann playfully tossed his shovelful of dirt, than the site was swarmed by parish youngsters excitedly digging away with their own shovels.

Next, everyone retired to the parish hall for one of those legendary potlucks where the tables are crowded with the very best dishes of the parish women.

The perfect early fall evening was a double cause for celebration.

Not only did Archbishop Naumann bless the site of the new church, he also installed its new pastor, Father Balachandra Miriyala, originally from India.

“I was very happy and excited because I thought it would be a challenging job to build a new church,” said Father Miriyala, who arrived on July 14. “I’ve never built a church so far in my priestly life, so I thought it would be a nice thing to build a church in the United States.”

St. James is a small parish that has seen a lot of change since the first church was built in 1879 as a mission of the Benedictines of Atchison. Over time, various buildings, including an old frame school, rectory and original church have been built and torn down.

The current church was actually built as a two-room school in 1960.

The school closed in 1969 and was then remodeled for worship. Although it served the people well, it’s too small (seating only about 130 people). Consequently, many weddings were moved to Sabetha. Also, the building is aging and upkeep on it is not cost-effective.

“One reason [for a new church] is that we’re running out of room, and the old church has a lot of issues,” said Randy Tanking, chairman of the parish building committee. “We looked at remodeling and saw that it would cost as much to renovate the old church as to build a new one.”

There was a lot of support for building a new church among the 71 families of the parish.

According to a survey, 98 percent of parishioners favored a new church — and they backed it with pledges. When fundraising began, the capital campaign reached 50 percent of its goal immediately.

The cost of the new church will be $465,000, and the parish plans to pay it off in just three years, said Bill Burdick, chairman of the parish finance committee.

“It looks like it is possible,” said Burdick. “We paid the parish hall off in five years.”

The one-story church will be built between the parish hall and current church, which will be converted for use in religious education programs. The former rectory garage, now on the site, will be torn down.

The 4,800-square-foot church will have a full basement and a small steeple. Construction will be wood frame with brick facing. There will be a cry room, one small bathroom upstairs, and two larger bathrooms downstairs.

The basement will be largely unfinished, but will have a small room for the pastor in case he is compelled to stay overnight by the weather or for other reasons. The church windows will be clear glass, but can be replaced later with stained glass.

The new church will seat about 300. The parish is using 34 pews formerly at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood.

Construction, which will begin in two weeks, is expected to be completed in five months. Tim Rolands of ATNJ of Platte City, Mo., drew up the plans. The project’s general contractor is F & L Construction of Centralia.

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