Parish community comes together to make new hall a reality
by Jessica Langdon
BLAINE — When the people of Blaine set their minds on something, they don’t waste any time in making it happen.
Stephen O’Shea, president of the parish council at St. Columbkille Church in Blaine, believes a bank representative summed up that sentiment best when the community gathered Sept. 29 to celebrate the blessing of the brand-new St. Columbkille Church hall.
“He said this was simply amazing what we’ve done, because most projects like this take about three years to build,” said O’Shea.
Blaine’s hall, however, was built in about a year.
It’s easy to hear the emotion in O’Shea’s voice when he talks about how it all came together.
He knows by name every last person who made this dream come true.
And even though the structure itself is new, pieces of the community’s history, dating back decades, are built into it.
Many people who have called this part of northern Kansas home have walked the halls of the school buildings — from elementary to high school — that once stood on the site.
More still have attended religious education classes in the old school building after the school closed — or used the basement as a gathering space — until a bad storm ravaged the site in June 2010.
When the time came to demolish the old school, the community looked to the future.
But bricks from the old school are featured in the exterior of the new church hall, and the names of all of the alumni are featured in bricks along the side of the building.
The parish first put together a building committee to investigate possibilities and to plan for a new parish hall.
Fortunately, a cousin of committee member Leo Finan happened to have plans available for a building similar to the one Blaine parishioners envisioned, said O’Shea.
A fundraising committee was formed next, and its members quickly put out the call for help.
Once archdiocesan leadership green lighted the project, things really started coming together.
Support poured in from near and far and, in October 2011, crews began pouring concrete and lining out plumbing.
When nice weather blossomed in the spring, they framed the building.
In the meantime, parishioners prayed — and worked. Asking for the intercession of St. Columbkille, they organized a wide array of fundraisers — from garage sales, pancake feeds, and bake sales, to a motorcycle ride.
Volunteers of all ages helped with the work, some of which involved cleaning the old bricks and getting them ready to star in the new building.
Parishioners could see the rapid progress throughout the spring — and caught a sneak peek during the summer — but the hall didn’t make its official debut until Sept. 29.
On that day, the community was invited to an afternoon open house.
Following the 6 p.m. Mass, Father Pat Sullivan — pastor of St. Columbkille, Annunciation Parish in Frankfort and St. Monica-St. Elizabeth Parish in Blue Rapids — blessed the new hall.
Then donors, alumni and other invited guests enjoyed an evening of food and fellowship.
Landscaping, beautiful donated flooring, a gift of hundreds of chairs and many other touches welcomed the guests.
“The whole community can be really proud of this building,” said Dorothy Finan — Leo Finan’s mother — and a member of St. Columbkille for nearly 55 years.
Her husband attended the Blaine schools. In fact, his mother was a member of the first graduating class. So this parish holds a lot of history for the family.
While Dorothy Finan was sad to see the old building come down, she knew it was really the only choice, and she was thrilled to see the new hall rise — especially thanks to the hard work of younger generations.
She can’t wait to see church members get things cooking in the new kitchen, knowing how much they made do without for so many years. Everything has its place now, and it’s beautiful, she said.
Families now even have events like movie nights to look forward to there. And the building will serve not only this parish, but also the wider community.
O’Shea knows how blessed the Blaine community is — especially in today’s economy — to accomplish this project and to call this place, surrounded by nature, home.
“People just came together,” he said. “It’s just simply amazing.”