MENASHA — Elbow grease, several gallons of paint and a spirit of giving have transformed the former St. John Parish rectory into a community living space. Fr. Paul Paider, pastor at St. John and St. Mary parishes, blessed Faustina House at an open house on Aug. 29. Tours of the house continued the following morning prior to the first occupants taking residence. Four women from Spiritus will live at the site this school year.
The building, which also housed parish offices in the past, had been vacant for five-plus years. Three women from the parish, known as the “revitalization team,” led the project. Becky Castonia, Jill Grambow and Jennifer Lee had worked together as part of the St. John anniversary committee. The parish marked 125 years in 2013.
“We had a year’s worth of celebrations for the anniversary,” said Grambow. “That was winding down and probably six months later, Becky called each of us and said, ‘The Holy Spirit is nagging at me. We have to do more.’ We started brainstorming some things we could do to revitalize our parish to start bringing more participation, enthusiasm and new faces and old faces back.”
Lee brought up how a number of rectories had been turned into faith-based community homes.
“(Jennifer) knew people at (St. Maria) Goretti House (Appleton) and Nazareth Home (Green Bay),” said Grambow. “We started touring these places and felt that this facility was remarkable. It just needed some love.”
Work began on June 19. Extensive cleaning was required. Seventeen rooms, a hallway and an accent wall were painted. An electrician from the parish brought systems up to code and installed ceiling fans. A plumber, who also has ties to the parish, completed upgrades in the bathrooms. Ninety percent of the furniture in Faustina House was donated. The two-story house includes bedrooms with bathrooms, a kitchen, dining room, office, a living room with a foosball table and additional shared space on the second floor.
“The parish support and backing was phenomenal,” said Steve Siegel, business manager. “It was not just members of St. John, but also St. Mary donating their time. That’s what made it all happen. The work wasn’t easy at times, but you would see smiles on their faces. They were so energized.”
Siegel explained that the parish moved forward on the project with plans for Catholics, either all women or all men, to live in community. A few weeks after work began, Eden Foord, director at Mount Tabor Center, home of Spiritus, contacted the parish about the living space. This year’s Spiritus team is made up of nine women and five men. Spiritus travels throughout Wisconsin to parishes and schools to lead retreats, witness talks and other activities designed to ignite the faith in young people.
The five other Spiritus women will reside at Mount Tabor Center. Foord explained that, when an outside group holds a retreat at the center, team members are limited to their rooms. Faustina House, located only blocks away from Mount Tabor, will now give them a place to go.
The women who now live at Faustina House saw it for the first time on move-in day.
“It’s so beautiful. We are so very blessed to have this opportunity and thankful for all the work and effort that was put into making this possible,” said Maddie Garnica, who is from Ohio.
“To see how the parish came together and how much they’ve done to make it feel like home for us, that’s so touching,” said Susan Katchka, a Michigan native. “Everyone has been so friendly and welcoming.”
The women plan to have a presence at the parish.
“I look forward to making a connection with the people of the community, to pray with them,” said Garnica.
An “Adopt a Project” board was created so parish members could financially support a particular item in Faustina House. Separate fundraisers will provide for a Faustina House sign and blue and red lighting to represent the Divine Mercy image.
“It was a labor of love,” said Grambow. “It started as a project and became an experience. The generosity of so many people has really propelled this project.”