SYCAMORE – If this year’s Christmas gifts are any indication, St. Mary’s Catholic School and Church will be able to reach more people with the Christmas message in the holiday seasons to come.
Years of planning and fundraising have started to come to fruition for the Catholic ministry that recently gained city approval to move forward with expansion of classrooms, office space, bathrooms and storage.
The 13,100-square-foot expansion includes the addition of a two-story brick building that will connect with facilities on Waterman Street.
The proposed design shows the new building expanding east off the existing school and features two 6,550-square-foot floors. The first floor will include new preschool, kindergarten and first-grade classrooms, along with administrative offices and restrooms. The second floor will not be dedicated to a specific use in initial phases, but will be available for future expansion of classes.
Shortly after City Council approval, St. Mary’s Principal Ross Bubolz said it was a great first step after previous efforts failed.
“[The expansion] will benefit the youth ministry, congregation and entire parish,” he said. “We look forward to seeing the shovel in the ground in June.”
But the first phase, expected to start sometime in early June, is only part of a larger master plan.
The church and school hope to build a Faith Formation Center with 10 new classrooms – including the three new rooms in the first phase – for the school and religious education program and space for youth ministry. The 1920s section of the school building will be taken down and replaced with a gym and multipurpose space and the 1960s classrooms will be remodeled as part of the final phase of the new center.
The long-term project also will include a new church sacristy with restrooms, an enclosed link between the church and the center, church expansion and a new rectory.
The project would be the church’s first major build since a 1960 school expansion and construction of the Parish Activity Center in 2002. By the end of September, $1.9 million in pledges had been received to go toward the first-phase goal of $2.2 million.
Sara Blaser, youth minister at St. Mary’s, said it has been amazing to see the generosity of the congregation when it comes to supporting all parish programs, even from members who have no children in programs or enrolled in the school.
The need for more resources has been noticeable, she said, as youth programs have grown during her 10 years at the church – more than doubling in size during that time, in some cases.
“The generosity and openness of the parishioners to give to programs that help our students get closer to God has been amazing,” Blaser said.
Updated facilities are needed to meet the growing demand in what is one of the fastest-growing campuses in the Rockford Diocese.
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St. Mary’s experienced a 29 percent increase in the number of registered households from 2001 to 2006 – the second highest of all parishes in the Diocese of Rockford. It also averaged 99 baptisms per year from 2004 to 2006 – the highest in the diocese.
Rita Henne, who helps run the Good Cheer Ministry and has been a member of the church since 1966, credited the young families who have come to the parish during that time of growth for the passionate effort to expand.
She said many longtime members enjoy seeing the younger generation take ownership for the church’s future.
“I think it’s a good time to expand,” she said. “They have a wonderful principal there at the school and they have good parents and a lot of young families which is always nice to see.”