by Marc and Julie Anderson
Special to The Leaven
ROSSVILLE — Standing room only — that’s what a pastor likes to see.
Unless it happens week after week, requiring families to split up as they scramble for the few remaining seats scattered throughout the church.
But the cramped conditions was just one of the reasons that St. Stanislaus Parish in Rossville wants to build a new church. Until recently, the idea seemed to be just that — an idea. Now, it’s becoming a reality.
On Aug. 28, nearly 200 of St. Stanislaus’ 400-plus parishioners joined Archbishop Joseph Naumann and pastor Father Bruce Ansems to break ground on a new Roman-style basilica church to be constructed later this year. Others involved in the groundbreaking ceremony included members of the building committee, the project’s architect, the general contractor and other parish representatives.
For Shelly Buhler, chair of the building committee, the day surpassed her expectations. She was extremely excited about the new church and thrilled the groundbreaking day had arrived.
“Everybody is ready to get started,” said Buhler, adding that the need for a new church structure was identified as part of the St. Marys Region pastoral planning completed several years ago.
On weekends, Masses are jam-packed, Buhler said, and occasions such as first Communions and weddings cannot be held in the current church, due to its size. Additionally, the current church was in desperate need of repair. Buhler said the early parishioners did what they could to provide a church for future generations, but the torch has been passed.
“We’ve come together as a parish community and we’re determined to get it done,” said Buhler.
“It’s our responsibility and our opportunity to offer something to future generations,” she added.
Plans for a new church really only began to take shape two years ago.
In November 2009, Don Damon, a retired truck driver in Great Bend in southwest Kansas, walked into a Dillion’s store and purchased a lottery ticket for $1. It gave him an amazing return on his investment — it was the winning ticket for a $96 million jackpot.
At the time, their nephew Kevin Bittner served as a member of St. Stanislaus’ building committee. When the Damons asked how they could help the parish, Bittner explained how the parish was trying to figure out ways to raise the necessary funds for a new church.
It didn’t take long for Damon and his wife, Kathleen, to respond with a gift to St. Stanislaus of $100,000. A few weeks later, Bittner was catching up over lunch with his aunt and uncle, and the couple asked about the plans for the new church. Bittner shared the parish was in the midst of brainstorming other creative fundraising efforts.
Within 30 minutes of him returning to work, the Damons’ attorney called Bittner and expressed their wish to give the parish another financial gift — this time for the amount of one million dollars. At the time, parishioners, including both Buhler and Bittner, said they were moved to tears by the Damons’ generosity.
There was still money to be raised, of course. But it was the Damons’ gift, said parishioners, that inspired them to look beyond themselves for creative ways to raise funds. Finally, they came up with the amount necessary for the archdiocese to approve the building project.
Three years passed from the date of the formation of the planning committee to the date of the groundbreaking. Now parishioners like Buhler can hardly wait for the construction to be complete.
“I’m just so excited for our parish community,” Buhler said.
The new church will be approximately 12,000 square feet and hold 488 people. Not only will parishioners be able to celebrate important sacramental moments in their own church, but the new structure will also be more accessible to the elderly and physically challenged.
In his remarks, the archbishop praised the parish community for its successful efforts in getting the project to the groundbreaking stage. During the blessing, he prayed for the successful completion of the project, as well as for the safety of all those involved in the actual construction. Additionally, he prayed for the parish community to be inspired in their faith by the project.
He recounted how he had just toured some amazing Catholic cathedrals in Madrid, Spain, as part of his trip to celebrate World Youth Day.
“Some of them took 300 years to build. Father Bruce is on a much tighter time frame,” the archbishop joked, adding later that Catholics build beautiful churches for one main reason — to humbly express their love of God.
Project manager Pat Tolin, of Ferrell Construction, and architect David Heit, of the Schwerdt Design Group, said they, too, are being inspired by the project.
“It’s one of the more fulfilling projects I’ve been involved with,” said Tolin. “The building itself is inspiring and the local community involvement is exciting.”
For Father Ansems, the project is exciting for several reasons.
First, it’s the first church he’s ever been involved in building, although he’s quick to credit previous pastors Fathers John Riley and Ben Gomes for getting the parish to this point. He’s also been gratified by the community response. When asked what he would like the rest of the archdiocese to know about St. Stanislaus Parish and the people of Rossville, Father Ansems had this to say.
Although the building of a new church in a rural area such as Rossville is not the norm, he said, “some rural towns are very much alive — and the faith is alive.”
Not only is St. Stanislaus Parish building a new church — it’s building one twice the size of the former church.
Finally, Father Ansems concluded, the people of the parish are just amazing.
“They’re a very easy community to care about,” he said.