by Joe Bollig
WAMEGO — Who says you can’t think big in a small town?
Members of St. Bernard Parish in Wamego are looking to the future and thinking big — or at least bigger — as they begin construction of their new church on 15 acres of former cornfield on the north edge of town.
The current limestone Gothic church, completed in 1908, seats about 240 and is simply too small. The new church will have almost double the capacity and a lot of other improvements — like space for socializing, off-street parking and handicapped accessibility.
Construction began on May 8, but pastor Father John Pilcher and parishioners welcomed Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann for a blessing of the new site after 10 a.m. Mass on July 12.
The current church cannot accommodate the congregation, especially for larger liturgies like confirmations and most weddings, said Father Pilcher. As a result, people have to utilize St. Joseph Parish in Flush.
St. Bernard Parish has 390 registered families. Father Pilcher, pastor since 2002, also serves St. Joseph Parish in Flush, Sacred Heart Parish in Paxico, and Holy Family Parish in Alma.
“This is an opportunity to grow in our faith,” said Father Pilcher. “[Building the new church] is an invitation for more people to come. It’s opening up ourselves to welcoming people.”
Construction of the new church is the first of a two-phase building plan. The church will be built first; a new parish office, parish hall and religious education classrooms will be built later. The new church will have a 165-space parking lot. Phase one is scheduled for completion in June 2010.
Eventually, the current parish facilities (including two houses) on 6.8 acres of land will be sold, with those monies applied to the cost of the new church.
The exterior will be beige and brown brick and stucco, with an asphalt shingle roof. The interior will feature exposed, stained laminated timbers with a tongue- and-groove wood deck ceiling.
The majority of the 11,760 square feet of the new church will be for the sanctuary, with the remainder being used for the narthex (gathering space), a vesting room, a robing room that can also be used by brides, adoration chapel, choir rehearsal room, restrooms and sacristy.
Parish heritage means a lot to the parishioners, so stained-glass windows from the old church will be put in the new, and many other devotional and liturgical items — including the Stations of the Cross, crucifix, tabernacle and statues — will also be transferred to the new church. The old church’s bell will be moved to the new site, although it has not been decided how it will be situated.
The cost of the land, phase-one construction and furnishing is $2.57 million. So far, the capital campaign has raised about $800,000 in cash and another $150,000 in in-kind services and donated contract labor, said Greg Dekat, parish finance committee and capital campaign committee member.
The architect is Schwerdt Design Group, Inc.; structural/civil engineer is Bartlett & West; and general contractor is KBS Constructors, Inc., all three of Topeka.