SUTTON (SNR) - After decades of talking about it, years of fundraising and many months of construction, St. Mary Parish in Sutton finally has a new parish hall.
On Sunday, June 16, Bishop James Conley will bless the hall and enjoy the first parish dinner ever hosted under its roof.
"It’s finally become a reality," exclaimed building committee member Kim Lemkau, who has been a member of the parish all her life.
St. Mary Church is a beautiful, neo-classic Romanesque structure that has graced the heart of Sutton since its dedication by Bishop Thomas Bonacum in October 1907. Parishioners have sought to maintain its appearance inside and out ever since.
When this church was built, an older, frame church served as the parish hall until it burned down. The parish went without a hall for some time, until they were able to salvage a building from an Air Force base in 1945.
The Air Force building was moved across the alley from the church, where it would be convenient for parish events. However, it wasn’t intended to be a permanent structure. By the 1970s, parishioners began discussing the need to build a new parish hall.
Quite a few years ago, the parish Altar Society optimistically began holding bake sales and fundraisers, setting aside money to outfit a kitchen, whenever a new hall was built. Meanwhile, the Air Force building was rather miraculously outlasting its intended lifespan.
"We moved to Sutton 11 and a half years ago, and I thought it was rickety back then," said parishioner and building committee member Amy Skalka.
By the time Father William Holoubek arrived as pastor in 2003, the parish had grown so much, the hall wouldn’t hold but half of the population.
"We had CCD in classrooms all over the place," Mrs. Lemkau. "In the sacristy, in the choir loft, in the entrance, in the basement of rectory. A lady of the parish was kind enough to have the high school kids in her home."
But when it came to building a parish hall, both pastor and parishioners were conscious of protecting the integrity of the church. A survey conducted by the building committee determined that most people wanted the hall adjacent to the church, rather than across the alley, and they wanted it connected in some way so that people could move from the church to the hall without going outdoors.
"With a project like this, you can’t get 100% approval and agreement from everybody," Mrs. Skalka reasoned. "That’s an unrealistic goal, but it was important to make sure that we asked the parish to find out what is most important."
With that consensus reached, the aesthetics of the new hall became crucial. No pre-fabricated structure or simple brick building would be appropriate next to their stunning church.
"That’s one thing Father Holoubek always emphasized," said Mrs. Skalka. "Just imagine 100 years ago, how much they had to sacrifice to build that church. And we wanted to do it justice."
Architect Kevin Clark was hired to design a hall worthy of St. Mary Church. He tackled quite a list of "musts" to please the parish.
"We didn’t want any of our beautiful stained glass windows removed or obstructed," said Mrs. Lemkau. "We took great pains to try to match the original brick and even the roofline and different intricacies of the windows."
Mr. Clark designed the hall to sit back a little farther from the street than the church, so that the church is still the focal point to passersby. To connect the two buildings, he designed a breezeway leading up to one of the two bump-outs that had served as the original confessionals. The outside is finished with the same materials as the church.
"It cost that much more to make it match with the brick and the limestone and heavy wood shingles," Father Holoubek admitted. "People were overwhelmingly sacrificial — off the charts."
The results are downright remarkable.
"It looks like it’s always been there," Father Holoubek said.
Mrs. Skalka can’t wait for CCD classes to start again. "I think the kids will love it, and I think they’ll be even more eager to come," she said.
Despite the lack of exterior landscaping—a grotto has been donated and will be built in the coming months—the parish used their new hall for the first time after the Eucharistic procession on the feast of Corpus Christi.
"It was just fitting that Jesus was the first one through the doors of our new hall," Mrs. Lemkau said.
On Sunday, the parishioners will gather for Mass at 11 a.m. Bishop Conley will bless the hall immediately afterward, and then all will have a catered dinner. An open house is tentatively scheduled for autumn to welcome other supporters to the new parish hall.
Father Holoubek is happy to see his parish enjoying the new hall. "I see a sense of excitement and fulfillment of reaching something that has been their hearts’ desire for many years," he said.
New Parish Hall in Sutton to be Dedicated June 16