by Joe Bollig
GARDNER — As Divine Mercy parishioners here lined up for a celebratory barbecue buffet on Sept. 1 in their new Christian Formation Center, they shuffled past a prayer writ large on a hallway wall.
The prayer, written by pastor Father Joseph Cramer, was recited after every Mass for a decade.
“Dear Father, You commanded us in holy Scripture to proclaim your good news. May this Christian Formation Center become a true expression of our love for you . . .”
“I especially love the prayer on the wall when you first come in here,” said Anna Welch, a longtime parishioner and sacristan. “This was the prayer we said before we got the money for the building. It’s beautiful.”
The new building is a testimony to the power of prayer and persistence.
Despite a recession and drought- ending rains that repeatedly flooded the basement in the early stages, Divine Mercy Parish of Gardner-Edgerton raised $3.87 million to build the center.
It was a race to finish the center by the date of the blessing and dedication. Even as Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann was at the door, workmen were standing by to lay down rolls of fresh sod.
With a prayer of dedication at the front door, Archbishop Naumann blessed the new facility. Then Global Construction Strategies site manager Kyle Harris — accompanied by his two sons Thatcher, 2, and Luca, 4 — handed over the key to the center to Archbishop Naumann, who in turn handed it to Father Cramer.
Architect Jim Sullivan of Sullivan Palmer Architects gave a welcome speech following Father Cramer’s ceremonial unlocking of the front door.
“On behalf of all the craftsmen,” said Sullivan, “the muddy guys who were down in the flooded excavation with sump pumps, or the steelworkers who were straddling beams in the middle of a cold and windy winter; on behalf of the parishioners, who even in the midst of a recession opened their checkbooks and signed commitments, who had bake sales and golf tournaments; on behalf of the church staff and volunteers who had the extra task of keeping us all in line; and on behalf of Father Joe, who was our rock during this period with his resolve, sense of humor and positive attitude, I welcome you to this new Christian Formation Center.”
Approximately 900 people followed Archbishop Naumann, Father Cramer, and master of ceremonies Msgr. Gary Applegate into the new building for the dinner.
“We give thanks tonight for all those who have helped make this a reality . . . and I want to thank in a very special way Father Joseph Cramer for his leadership,” said Archbishop Naumann, before he blessed various rooms and other areas of the center.
“It takes a lot,” the archbishop continued. “Only all of you together could make this happen, but it takes leadership to make a project like this a reality.”
Richard and Joyce Soetaert were among the excited parishioners.
“It’s well-needed,” said Richard Soetaert, who grew up in the parish. “It’s great. It’s beautiful.”
“I love the brick [and stucco exterior],” said Joyce Soetaert.
They also love the art inside the hall, where two large paintings from the 1912 church — Christ the Good Shepherd and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane — hang in frames donated by the Brad Teager family.
A large tapestry of “The Madonna of Kansas” was donated by the St. Anne Sewing Circle family and friends.
And stained-glass windows were donated by Edward and Jerri Decker, Frank and Virginia MacKey, and in memory of Claude Greufe.
A risen Christ sculpture was donated by the Braun family.
The new hall has a 15,107-square-foot upper level and a 13,265-square-foot lower level, for a total of 28,372 square feet. The upper level, connected to the church by a corridor, has restrooms, storage, three offices, two conference rooms and a kitchen that overlooks a large multipurpose room that can be split with an accordion-like movable divider.
The lower level, with 14 religious education classrooms, has a southeast walkout entrance/exit with a statue of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and schoolchildren, donated by the John and Mary Jo Andrew family and in memory of Tracy Elkinton by the Elkinton family.
The outside features a “cloister” area between the church and hall, with a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and an artificial spring and stream. A Ten Commandments monument outside the front of the building was donated by Louis and Edith Soetaert in memory of Charles and Louise Soetaert.
A fountain outside the front of the building, with a statue of the Holy Family, was made possible by several families: The fountain was donated by the Gene and Dorothy Jesberg family; the John and Mary Leeker family in memory of their parents; and also in memory of the Struchtemeyer, Riley and Alexander families.