by Jessica Langdon
HARTFORD — St. Mary’s Parish here might be small in numbers, but it’s huge in passion and faith — which it demonstrated by making a big dream come true.
The parish, which is made up of about 50 families, gathered March 8 to celebrate the dedication of its brand-new parish hall.
“I think it’s a sign of life in the parish,” said Father Ray May, pastor of St. Mary and chaplain/director at the Didde Catholic Campus Center at Emporia State University.
The plans and fundraising started before he arrived at the parish as pastor. But he’s been constantly impressed as he’s witnessed this faith community come together to build this hall.
“Everyone put a contribution into that building,” he said.
Pat Wiederholt, a parishioner and member of the parish and finance councils who has been heavily involved in the project over the past few years, agreed.
“It never stopped,” he said of the on- going effort by parishioners.
People pitched in when they could, whether that was during the evenings after they finished working their regular jobs, or on weekends.
After all, this is a place that will play a big part in parishioners’ lives — whether their families head to the hall for religious education classes or come together as a parish community for fellowship, food and faith.
“Any time parishioners come together and just spend time together and visit, I think it just really unites you and pulls you together as a family,” said Janel Wiederholt, Pat’s wife and the bookkeeper for the parish.
Past and future
St. Mary Parish formed in 1877.
In 1879, its first church, a little white building, was constructed.
That church building was moved in 1885 a few blocks away to the land the parish stands on today.
The cornerstone was laid in 1890 for a new church building on the same grounds, and that “new” church still serves as the present-day church.
The original church building remained open as the parish hall, host- ing many parish meals (including the beloved beef-and-noodle dinner) and other functions, religious education classes and even some wedding receptions.
It held many memories, but parishioners recognized the need for an up- dated building.
For one thing, religious education classes for some time were split between the hall and the former rectory across the street.
And because both church buildings were built more than a century ago, the old rectory site held the only restroom facilities for the parish — again, across the street.
Once parishioners had seen their church through a series of renovations over the past two decades, including the addition of a ramp, heating and air improvements, painting, work on the steeple and more, they felt it was the right time to turn their attention to the parish hall.
“Everybody was in the mood to attack this,” said Pat Wiederholt.
And so it began.
Wiederholt was touched by the turnout when, early in the process, he invited St. Mary parishioners to accompany him on a trip to St. Joseph Parish hall in Waverly for a look around.
Even though the evening was cool and rainy, he said, “practically everybody showed up,” and their Waverly hosts shared what they liked — and what they thought they might change — about their hall.
In May 2011, St. Mary formed fund- raising and design and construction committees, with an original goal of about $120,000.
But as the dollars started rolling in, the parish realized it was going to exceed that, and actually raised about $150,000.
That allowed for some upgrades Pat Wiederholt believes will pay off in the long run when it comes to keeping the structure in great shape.
He didn’t want to create any debt, and is excited that the project is paid for.
Parishioners took the lead on design, said Janel Wiederholt. The archdiocese provided input, and the parish worked with Doug Schmidt Construction in Olpe.
The former rectory was sold, and the parish broke ground on the new hall in June 2012.
A lot of labor was donated along the way to make the 50-by-60-foot framed metal-clad building a reality.
It holds an open space, four class- rooms and handicap-accessible restrooms (which are now on the same side of the street as the church).
It also has a 14-by-32-foot attached storage area.
“These are projects that bring a parish together,” said Pat Wiederholt. “You’re not just going to church on Sunday and everybody scatters. It’s been fun to watch people get so involved in it.”
People realize they are called to be faithful Catholics — but also recognize they have a responsibility to take care of their parish grounds, he said.
“It just makes it even more special when you’ve got your own parishioners who are willing to jump in and pitch in,” said Janel Wiederholt. “It’s just a sense of pride really. . . . We feel like we’re a big family coming together.”
Small but strong
The parish family gathered March 8 for the dedication and blessing by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann.
The hall was merely a shell last time he saw it in 2012, and Pat Wiederholt was excited for him to see it ready for visitors.
Parishioners enjoyed their first meal — which included the beef-and-noodle menu highlights and was hosted by the Altar Society — in the new parish hall after the dedication.
With one gathering complete, parishioners looked forward to many more in their new parish hall.
“St. Mary’s Parish — even though we are a small parish in a small town — we’re going strong,” said Janel Wiederholt. “It’s very special. It means a lot to all of us.”
“We’re doing good,” she added. “We’re staying strong.”