Father Rich Yanos wishes he had a camera in hand. When students at Prince of Peace School in Lake Villa reported for their opening day of class in August, many enjoyed their first look at the parish’s sparkling new parish center, a 43,000-square foot space packed with a 420-seat gymnasium, a theatre stage with professional lighting, classrooms, meeting space, a school library, a fine arts room and a banquet hall sized kitchen.
“Their jaws just dropped,” said Yanos, Prince of Peace’s pastor since 1997.
More than 60 miles away in Oak Lawn, a similar scene played out when students at St. Gerald, who had watched their new parish center rise brick-by-brick throughout the 2012-2013 school year, entered their new facility for the first time in late summer.
For leaders and parishioners at both Prince of Peace and St. Gerald, the new parish centers have sparked enthusiasm and promise.
The $5.3 million Prince of Peace Parish Life Center is the culmination of the north suburban parish’s long-range master plan drafted in 1999. Following renovations to the school, an addition to the church and a new rectory, more than 300 people attended the parish center’s groundbreaking celebration last September, many with their own shovels in hand to participate in the ceremonial event.
“From the very beginning, there’s been great interest in this project from individuals throughout our parish community,” Prince of Peace business and operations manager Barbara Ruhl said.
In town hall meetings discussing the facility’s construction, parish leaders listened to the input of parishioners and drafted plans for a project that would serve all stakeholders.
“This isn’t just a space for basketball games; it will host holiday programs, parish dinners, our rummage sale and craft fair,” Yanos said. “We haven’t even considered all of the center’s potential uses.”
To fund the expansive project, which doubles the size of the 2,500-family parish’s existing center, Prince of Peace held a second collection every week, conducted a pledge drive and secured a $1.7 million loan from the archdiocese.
“God blessed us with the ability to finish this project and it will change the face of our parish,” Yanos said.
Yanos is most excited about the new facility’s potential to expand the parish’s extracurricular activities and ministries. When Yanos arrived in 1997, the parish claimed only three active ministries; today, there are more than 70, including a growing Savvy Seniors group and a Knights of Columbus council.
“As our parish has grown, so, too, has our need to increase our facility space to fulfill our ministries,” Yanos said. “This will allow members of our community to experience and live their faith in new ways.”
Bishop George Rassas will preside over the facility’s dedication on Sept. 15. According to Ruhl, more than 1,200 parishioners have pledged to attend that event.
“That’s a real statement about the appreciation this community has for this new facility,” Ruhl said.
Completed in July, St. Gerald’s $2.4 million parish center sits just steps from the school’s doors and features a gymnasium, a multipurpose foyer, meeting room and storage space. St. Gerald School principal Al Theis called the effort “decades in the making.”
“When the school was rebuilt following the tornado in 1967, there was hope from many that a gym would be a part of the plans, but that never came to fruition,” Theis explained.
St. Gerald Jonathan Collins Activity Center, Oak Lawn, IL
About eight years ago, however, St. Gerald’s Holy Name Society jump started the long-tabled plans. The group launched a carnival to kick off the fundraising effort, a move that motivated other fundraising initiatives, including a penny drive from St. Gerald students that raised more than $5,000.
“There had been talk for years, but we started to see action,” St. Gerald pastor Father Lawrence Malcolm said.
The new facility has had an immediate impact on life at St. Gerald.
Students’ physical education time has doubled and the school is now able to accommodate new programming, including a traveling science theatre troupe that will present at the school on Sept. 16. Later this year, St. Gerald will host an alumni event at the new facility, a challenging endeavor in years past.
Malcolm believes the new facility will allow St. Gerald to expand its ministries and outreach by accommodating new programs and lessening the burden on the parish’s chapel hall. He said nearly 30 volunteers attended a recent parish meeting to discuss new uses for the parish center.
Most exciting to Malcolm, however, is the sense of place the new facility offers parish youth. After years of St. Gerald’s athletic teams using the gyms of nearby high schools and parks for their practices and home games, the Giants’ squads will finally enjoy a true home game.
“As one of our kids said, ‘We finally have a place to call home,’” Malcolm said. “It’s a wonderful feeling to bring that to our kids.”
(Reprinted with permission, Catholic New World September 15-28, 2013)