by Joe Bollig
PERRY — They were so very close, but it wasn’t enough.
Members of St. Theresa Parish in Perry had long dreamed of building a new parish hall and catechetical center. They held innumerable fundraisers and painstakingly grew their building fund.
But then the bids came in.
“We got three bids, and they were pretty high,” said Norbert Otter, chairman of the parish building committee.
The bids were so high they threatened to stall the project. The memory still brings tears to the eyes of parish director of religious education Janette Adams.
“We didn’t think we were going to get it,” said Adams. “I went home and told my dad. I said, ‘Dad, we’re not going to get a new parish hall. We’re not going to get religious education classrooms, because there’s not enough money and our parish isn’t big enough.’”
It was tough running a religious education program at St. Theresa. Students and teachers settled into whatever space they could find. The teachers lugged their books and instructional materials back and forth from their homes, because they couldn’t store them at the parish.
Everyone keenly felt the need for a new hall. The small fellowship hall in the church basement had a ramp, but the bathrooms weren’t handicapped accessible.
“My dad, bless his little soul, helped me out,” said Adams.
Keith Adams knew just who could help St. Theresa Parish: Mennonites. He gathered some information and made a call.
Two days before Otter and then-pastor Father Tom Aduri were to meet with archdiocesan officials to consider other options, they got a call from Mervin Graber, of the family-owed Graber Construction Company of Oskaloosa. Graber is also a deacon of the Ebenezer Amish Mennonite Church of Oskaloosa.
“I’ve got a bid for your hall,” Graber told them.
They met 15 minutes later. Graber offered them a bid $100,000 less than the three others St. Theresa had been offered.
Father Aduri and Otter asked why his bid was so much lower than the others.
“We’re here to help our fellow Christians,” said Graber.
The parish broke ground on the new hall on Oct. 16, 2011. At 6:30 a.m. the next day, Father Aduri’s early morning coffee was disturbed by the sounds of chain saws and backhoes from Graber’s Mennonite work crew.
“Everybody went about their work,” said Otter. “They knew what they were supposed to do. There wasn’t a lot of chitchat, and there wasn’t any of the [rough] language you usually hear at a construction site. It was impressive.”
All the hard work and fundraising — with help from Mennonite angels — paid off when Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann cut the ribbon and blessed the new parish hall on Sept. 9.
The archbishop was the main celebrant and homilist at the dedication Mass. The concelebrants were pastor Father Marreddy Yeruva, and former pastors Father Francis Hund, now at Church of the Nativity in Leawood, and Father Bob Hasenkamp, now retired and living in Lecompton.
“Praise to God for the beautiful people of St. Theresa’s,” said Father Yeruva. “I would like to thank Archbishop Joseph Naumann for allowing us to have this nice parish center.”
Archbishop Naumann praised Father Yeruva for seeing the project to completion, former pastors for their efforts, and St. Theresa parishioners for all their hard work and planning.
“We started about 15 years ago,” said Betty Grollmes, chairwoman of the parish finance committee. “We [raised funds] little by little, and this past year we had a capital campaign.”
“Once the decision was made to go ahead, it seemed like the Holy Spirit took over,” Grollmes continued. “We found a contractor who met our needs financially and we still got the building of our dreams. We had support from our community and outside the parish — people who donated time and resources. So many things came out of the goodness of people’s hearts.”
Following the Mass, an honor guard of fourth-degree Knights of Columbus led Archbishop Naumann, the three priests, and parishioners to the doors of the new building. After Archbishop Naumann blessed the building and handed the keys to Father Yeruva, he entered the new hall and blessed all the rooms. A dinner was held in the new hall immediately following the blessing.
St. Theresa Parish Center
• Total cost construction and furnishings: approximately $500,000
• General Contractor: Graber Construction Company, Oskaloosa
• Architect: Ann McGarity • Square feet: 7,800
• Capacity main hall: 170-200 people
• Construction: Composite shingle roof; front brick veneer and stucco sides; covered porch.
• Interior: Two offices, vestibule, two restrooms, six classrooms, mecha