BRILLON — The future of Catholic education in eastern Calumet County got a shot in the arm on Oct. 23, as Bishop David Ricken joined members of Holy Family Parish and other dignitaries to break ground on a new learning center.
“This is a gift of hope,” Bishop Ricken told The Compass following a ceremony that included speakers, hymns led by parish youth, and a blessing and breaking of ground. “I think from here, many other schools will begin to move into this in their own way. It’s really bringing alive Catholic education and discipleship and stewardship in a new way now, and that’s exciting. Not just for this community, but for the whole diocese.”
Bishop Ricken was referring to support of Catholic education and formation through the one by One campaign, a diocesan fundraising initiative that benefits Catholic education. Holy Family Parish determined they wanted to fund their new learning center through the campaign.
Every parish will participate in its own campaign, according to Josh Diedrich, executive director of the Catholic Foundation. The foundation and its partner, CCS Fundraising, supported and guided the Holy Family Learning Center campaign, he added.
“It is through the commitment of so many families who have worked incredibly hard and have given so generously that this project was made possible,” said Diedrich. “The Catholic Foundation was proud to partner with Holy Family Parish as part of the one by One campaign.”
The Holy Family Learning Center, a 35,610-square-foot facility, will house Holy Family School, the parish faith formation program and other parish programs. It will include nine classrooms with 20-student capacity for K-8th grades and faith formation instruction; four shared project rooms; two rooms for pre-K programs; a music room with 60 seats and instrument storage; a multipurpose gymnasium with collapsible bleachers seating up to 600 people; and a daycare center open to the community as an outreach ministry.
The project also includes upgrades to the current kitchen and social hall.
The facility has been a dream for many years, said Fr. Tom Pomeroy, pastor.
“The actual project has been in planning for about 20 years,” he said. “In about 2015, they had an all-parish meeting and they said, ‘What is the most important thing?’ It was unanimous: the learning center. At that time, they were still calling it the school, and it was the number one priority.”
Fr. Pomeroy was appointed by Bishop Ricken as pastor of Holy Family Parish three years ago.
“So my first meeting here in the parish was with 25 people gathered for a building committee meeting. Then we did the pastoral planning that the diocese asked us to do,” he added.
A feasibility study followed “and it came in very, very clear. The people wanted this.”
The entire parish agreed there was a need for a new building to house the parish school and its religious education program, said Fr. Pomeroy.
Holy Family School, which is a 3K through eighth grade school, is located two miles from the church on the site of the old St. Mary Church, which had merged with St. Mary-St. Patrick Parish in 2001. “The church was torn down and the school stayed there,” said Fr. Pomeroy. “The school is about 100 years old and has three levels, no handicap accessibility and floods every time it rains.”
Scott Smith, Holy Family School principal, addressed the gathering and said the new learning center will give teachers and students more opportunity to succeed.
“When teachers are practicing with students for plays … for reconciliation, they (will be) able to walk into the church,” he said. “The ability to accommodate students and faculty who might not be able to manage three flights of stairs, not having to worry about a heavy rainstorm flooding the basement, and having classrooms designed and equipped to help students and staff succeed” are all “dreams come true.”
“Again, I cannot say ‘thank you’ enough to all the people involved in this project,” he added. “The staff, students and families will never forget it.”
Danielle Krueger, a third-grade catechist, said the parish’s faith formation program will benefit from the Holy Family Learning Center in many ways. At present, classes are held at the school and at the church.
“People of all ages will benefit from this new space, but here is what we are most excited for: access to the church at any time,” she said. “This will be extremely beneficial for our young adults and youth who are receiving sacramental preparation. Adoration for all grades, not just high school, will give all students the opportunity to spend time with Jesus.”
Having classes at one site will eliminate parents “having to run back and forth from one site to another to drop off and pick up,” she added.
Fr. Pomeroy said that as the one by One campaign was launched, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and slowed down the fundraising process. The church was closed and the decision was made to continue the campaign, soliciting donations by phone.
“All of the parties and all of the get-togethers — it went from that to a year and a half of no parties, all personal phone calls,” he said. “So it was a totally different campaign and a lot more work, but our capital campaign organizers stepped up. They were phenomenal.”
A final hurdle, he said, was inflated costs due to shortage of materials.
“We had it bid out accurately at $6.5 million, but then with all of the massive inflation, we had … 500% increase in lumber and 400% increase in steel,” said Fr. Pomeroy. “It added another $1 million to the cost. So, right now, if we were building with our old number, we would have it completely paid for, but because of inflation, we still need another $800,000, so that’s where we are now.”
In his address to parishioners, gathered under a large tent beside the church, Bishop Ricken expressed pride in their accomplishments.
“What you are doing here is building a sign of hope,” he said. “Doesn’t our world, our country, our church need signs of hope?”
Like a coin, he said, there are two sides that help the faithful get to heaven.
“One side is discipleship and the other side is stewardship. I see it all around here,” Bishop Ricken said. “The stewardship of all of you who are already disciples, who want to pass a legacy of faith and good formation on to the next generation, both in Catholic schools and faith formation.
“The stewardship you are rendering — time, talent and treasure — you are passing on to the next generation. What a gift. We are at our best when we pass on our faith,” he added.
Fr. Pomeroy told the crowd of about 150 people that their sacrifices in making the learning center a reality mimicked the sacrifices of their ancestors.
“They worked together to build not only their church, but their schools,” he said. “They saw how important Catholic education was. They understood that faith was the key to a virtuous life and a strong community.”
Today, he added, “we take up the challenge that our ancestors began. … In 100 years from now, our parish will be gathering under a tent and they will be looking back and say, ‘Our ancestors cared for us and they sacrificed for us.’ They will be talking about this day. So thanks to all of you for all you have done to make this happen.”
View more photos from the groundbreaking ceremony on Flickr.