by Joe Bollig
OSAWATOMIE — A funeral dinner held a couple of years ago showed pastor Father Reginald Saldanha that St. Philip Neri Parish here needed a little “lift.”
“I had one gentleman with a walker who wanted to go to the [funeral] lunch in the basement,” said Father Saldanha. “But he could not — so he walked backward on the staircase.”
That made the pastor think: We need improved handicap accessibility — including a lift.
On July 27, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann joined Father Saldanha and parishioners to bless and celebrate the completion of their $250,000 renovation of the 1970 vintage church. The parking lot was an additional $46,000.
Archbishop Naumann was the homilist and main celebrant, and Father Saldanha concelebrated. Deacon Don Poole assisted, and Msgr. Gary Applegate was master of ceremonies.
In his homily, Archbishop Naumann expressed his joy at being able to join the parish celebration and offered his compliments.
“This shows a great care and love for the Lord and for his church,” said the archbishop. “In addition to expansion, to make your facilities more accessible to those with disabilities . . . speaks volumes about not only your care for the physical facilities, but also your care of the living temple — the body of Christ.”
In comments before the dismissal, Father Saldanha offered his thanks to the building committee and its head, Marjorie Pretz. He had depended on Pretz so heavily, said Father Saldanha, that another committee member had reminded him, “Father, I hope that you are aware that Marjorie Pretz has a husband and a family.”
The project — a total of 1,230 square feet upstairs and in the basement — began on March 6 and was completed in July, just before the blessing and celebration.
Outside, the gravel parking lot was replaced by a concrete lot, which is largely complete except for an area behind the church. The steel I-beam bell tower was relocated to accommodate the addition. Entryways to the church were made accessible for wheelchairs.
A new rectangular-shaped narthex (gathering space) was created at the front of the church by building an addition and renovating a cry room and the entryway. Just off the narthex are handicap-accessible bathrooms and a mechanical room.
Additionally, a lift was installed to facilitate movement to and from the basement, and the stairs were rebuilt. There was an update to the electrical system and the kitchen in the basement parish hall kitchen.
Although the lift is the crowning glory of the project, the artistic jewel is the new statue on display in a narthex window: St. Philip Neri.
The statue, made of white marble, was carved in Italy and paid for through fundraisers by the children in the religious education program and youth group. It cost $5,000.
“[The sculptors] were so excited because no one ever asked them to make a statue of St. Philip Neri before,” said Pretz.
The narthex also has a wooden memorial plaque for those who made financial gifts to the church, including gifts for the renovation and expansion.
The architect for the project was Warner Nease Bost Architects, Inc., of Kansas City, Missouri, and the general contractor was Triangle Builders of Paola.