by Mark and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — Barb McCauley has always been one to “dig into” a project, but rarely with a shovel.
That is, until McCauley, a member of St. Matthew Parish in Topeka, had the misfortune of being seated at the first table for the parish’s third annual auction held Sept. 20.
“All of a sudden, one of the [auction] workers walked over by me with a shovel and asked me to bid $250 for it,” she said.
“Well, I was embarrassed by it, of course,” she said, “and, at first, I shook my head ‘no.’”
Then he lowered the price to $225, and she shook her head “no” once again. “But eventually, as he was standing there,” said McCauley, “I got to thinking about how this is my parish family and I should be willing to bid on it.” McCauley’s bid of $200 bought her the privilege of representing the entire parish at the ground blessing on Sept. 28 for construction of the new parish hall and early education center.
St. Matthew Parish, which was founded in 1955, has never had an official parish hall. The church was built in 1987, and the parish has had to use the grade school basement for varied activities, including Bible studies, meetings and receptions.
The basement, however, had its limitations. Since it didn’t have a ramp or elevator, disabled and elderly parishioners had difficulty accessing the facility and thus felt marginalized. The new parish hall, however, will be on one floor and connected to the church.
This improved accessibility is one of the reasons parishioners are excited about the new facility, said Bob Broxterman, the parish administrator.
“One of our parishioners, Galen Underwood, is extremely involved in the parish. His daughter, Carrie, who sings in the parish choir, has never been able to attend the annual fall festival. It’s always held in the basement. She is in a wheelchair, so she’s not able to be part of so many parish events. So, she’s definitely excited about it,” Broxterman said.
The 13,000-square-foot addition is just the first of two phases of the parish’s “Building God’s Kingdom Together” campaign for the $2.7 million project.
The parish hall will be completed in June 2009, and the early education center will be completed in August 2009, just in time for the 2009-2010 school year. Phase two consists of tearing down the current early education center and erecting a new rectory on the same site. Phase two will be completed by February 2010.
Father Jerry Volz, the pastor, is delighted at the parish’s progress.
“I am glad I could help them get to the point to make commitments to make the project a reality,” he said. “St. Matthew Parish is an energetic, thriving community that’s really come together in stewardship, and now the community will have even more opportunities for fellowship and education.”
During his impromptu remarks as part of the blessing ceremony, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann echoed similar sentiments.
“Each time a building like this is built, it’s a metaphor for the church itself,” the archbishop said. “It’s a reminder that we are the living stones.”
“A project like this takes the whole community to make it work, and I congratulate you on getting to this point,” he said, adding, “It takes strong leadership from both the pastor and lay leaders — as well as the support of the whole community. And every contribution is important, no matter what size it is.”
The archbishop also reminded those in attendance to remember the reason for the building’s existence: The building will be a sacred one, one that will be used to bring Christ to the world.
He blessed the site, asking Jesus to be a part of the preparation as well as the building’s future, and reminded the congregation that “whatever we do, Jesus Christ must be the foundation.”
Archbishop Naumann and Father Volz then walked the building site, sprinkling holy water along the perimeter. They then joined nine others — including McCauley and representatives from the architectural firm and the construction company — in turning sod on a small patch of grass located just outside the church.