BELLWOOD (SNR) - When the new rectory for the pastor of Saint Peter and Saint Joseph parishes in Bellwood is complete, there will be many thankful people.
Father Jay Buhman, the current pastor, will be thankful that he’ll no longer have to deal with the troubles of a 100-year-old rectory with serious structural problems.
The 180 families who belong to the two parishes will be thankful that they were able to provide a new, safe, functional building, while saving a great deal of money.
Then there will be a certain group of students from Aquinas High School in David City, and their parents and teachers, who will be thankful that the students had the opportunity to learn valuable skills while they built the home themselves.
"A lot of people are surprised in the quality that the students achieve in the construction," said Mark Masur, the instructor who leads the program.
Since 1999, Aquinas High School has been offering a series of classes in home construction, cabinetry and cabinetry design, to prepare students for a possible career in this valuable and competitive field. During two semesters, the students construct a solid, quality home that is later moved from the school to a permanent home site.
Mr. Masur had been teaching a similar program at a vocational high school in South Dakota, Lake Region Vocational Education Center. A relative of his from Nebraska was so impressed with what he was doing there, she suggested that Aquinas in David City begin offering the same sort of program.
"Aquinas was more college-focused at that point, and didn’t offer a lot of vocational training," Mr. Masur.
So, Mr. Masur sent a letter to principal David McMahon, which described the program. He followed up with a video, figuring Aquinas would contact him if they wanted help setting up their own program.
To his surprise, Mr. McMahon contacted him soon afterward, and not just for advice. Mr. McMahon ended up offering him a job at Aquinas, thanks to an image of the Good Carpenter that he had glimpsed in Mr. Masur’s video of his South Dakota public school shop.
"When I hung it up, I prayed I would never be challenged… that it wouldn’t make the school system susceptible to a lawsuit," Mr. Masur said.
Instead, 16 years later, that image of Christ brought him a wonderful opportunity to become a positive influence on young people as a Catholic schoolteacher, and to move his entire family to the David City area.
"It shows you how God uses your best intentions beyond your wildest dreams," said Mr. Masur.
In the years since, he has led many students through the construction process. They do most of the work themselves, with a lot of guidance. And when a licensed contractor is brought in to do the electrical or some other high-level work, the students work closely with that person, so they get good training in those areas as well.
In the long run, students learn framing, electrical, drywall installation and finishing, siding, roofing and more. It’s actually a more comprehensive education than they’d get at any vocational school, though the students do need more training before they can get licensed.
Some Aquinas graduates have even become independent contractors, and when they need to hire new employees, they look for Aquinas students who have taken Building Trades, Cabinetry or Cabinetry and CAD.
Early last year, Mr. Masur got a call asking if the students could handle building a rectory for Bellwood.
A rectory is a different kind of project, because it includes office space and a conference room as well as living quarters. It’s also bigger – a little more than 2,000 square feet. Mr. Masur was confident that his students were up for the challenge.
The current rectory is nearly 100 years old and plagued with structural problems. The roof is bad, the electrical system is outdated, and the foundation is slowly giving way, among other issues. Father Buhman had to admit it was time to replace it.
He brought the situation to the attention of the parish, and they responded as generously as they could.
"To take on a project like this is really significant," Father Buhman said. "One of the great blessings here is our parishioners were so supportive."
Somebody brought the Aquinas program to Father Buhman’s attention, and he thought this would be a great way to save money on the rectory building project and help the high school that his parishioners attend.
"We had parishioners who toured the previous year’s house and were so impressed with the quality of work," Father Buhman said. "The craftsmanship is excellent."
After a bit of negotiation and choosing building materials to match Saint Peter Church, the Aquinas students started construction last September. The bulk of the work will be completed by the end of the school year, and the rectory will be moved over its new basement just behind the existing rectory.
Then, the final work will be completed, like exterior brick, flooring, and so on.
In the long run, Mr. Masur estimates that the Aquinas program saved the parishes somewhere around $40,000 in construction costs.
"This has really been a tremendous blessing," Father Buhman said.
For Mr. Masur, he takes a great deal of satisfaction in the fact that that his students are learning that God has given them gifts that they can use to accomplish wonderful things.
"More than they ever thought possible," he said.