LINCOLN (SNR) - There’s been talk of building a new church building in Lincoln’s Saint Patrick Parish for around 30 years. Now it’s about to happen.
Recently, the parish entered its first round of fundraising. Plans have been made for a structure that will cost $3.5 to $4 million, so the parish is attempting to raise at least half that so they can get started with the bidding process.
"The more we raise, the more we can do," reasoned Father Troy Schweiger, who has been pastor of the parish since June 2011.
It’s not often that a new pastor will make tearing down the church his first priority. But in Father Schweiger’s case, the more he listened, the more he realized that the people of the parish were hungering for a new spiritual home.
"This is what they wanted," he said.
The existing church was built in 1908 when the neighborhood known as Havelock was still an independent borough, largely populated by workers of the Burlington Railroad. The sturdy, squarish structure had a school on the top floor and the number of families gathering for Mass every Sunday was considerably fewer than the 750 who now call Saint Patrick Church their spiritual home.
Havelock was annexed to Lincoln in 1930, and soon after that, the church’s structural problems began to show themselves. A bell tower had to be removed in the ensuing years, simply because it was too unstable to be safe.
The parish continued to grow, and the church was patched and renovated from time to time. A separate school building was completed to house additional students.
In the 1980s, it became increasingly apparent that the parish would need a new church building. Images on many of the stained-glass windows had been reduced to a few illegible smudges. The flight of 11 concrete steps up to the front door that had added a bit of prestige to the church were now seen as a problem for elderly and disabled parishioners.
"We had a structural engineer check it out," Father Schweiger added. For now, the building is safe, but, he admitted, "The life-span of the church is over."
Still, there were more immediate needs, like replacing the crumbling rectory. An addition to the school, including a new gymnasium, was completed in 1998.
When the school gym went up, however, the building’s mechanical equipment was housed in a tiny basement with a "knock-out wall" on one end – a knock-out wall destined to be perforated so that wiring could be run into a new church someday.
Now, "someday" is here.
Kevin Clark, a local architect who has designed several other church structures, was hired after the building committee decided that his ideas and background matched the congregation’s vision for their new spiritual home.
Father Schweiger said it’s been a great experience for him as he and Mr. Clark led a series of input sessions. They collected ideas and suggestions from hundreds of parishioners, including adults of all ages and schoolchildren.
"What’s important to people is what happens in the church," he said, "Baptisms, marriages, funerals for their loved ones."
The symbols of these events – like the Crucifix, the stained glass on either side of the altar, and the statues – will be transferred into the new structure when it’s complete.
"There hasn’t been a whole lot of disagreement," Father Schweiger said. "People are open about what their hopes, dreams and wishes are… The committee took their input and decided what would be best for the big picture."
For example, one parishioner was concerned about making the new building more accessible for elderly and disabled parishioners by putting a driveway right past the front door.
The committee considered this, but soon realized that there would still be a very long walk down the aisle to get to the front pews, where they can remain kneeling or sitting to receive the Blessed Sacrament.
After some brainstorming, it was decided to designate a few handicapped stalls in the parking lot on either side of the altar area of the church. Then, it’s just 10 feet to the side door, and another 15 feet to the front pews.
Everyone agrees the new solution is better. In fact, the new Saint Patrick Church will probably be the most handicapped-accessible Catholic Church in Lincoln.
Father Schweiger said other issues have been similarly resolved, with everybody coming together to support the best solution without selfishness or strife.
"I am so thankful to the previous pastor," he said, referencing Msgr. David Hintz, who was at the helm of Saint Patrick parish for many years and now teaches at St. Gregory the Great Seminary in Seward. "He did an incredible job building up the spiritual lives of the people."
Fundraising efforts have started out strong. As of Sunday, Oct. 15, the parish had collected 112 pledges totaling about $1.68 million to be donated over five years’ time.
There’s still a considerable way to go before they have their $2 million minimum in order to bid out the project and break ground next summer, but Father Schweiger is prayerfully confident that people who have connections to Saint Patrick Parish will be generous and faithful.
His hope is to celebrate 2014’s Christmas Masses in the new church.
"That’s pretty ambitious," he admitted. "But there is a great desire among the people to build a new church."
To see the plans for the new Saint Patrick Church, visit the parish website at www.stpatricklincoln.com.