In late November volunteers from the Roman Catholic Community of Geneva gathered in the brand-new parish center to assemble and distribute Thanksgiving baskets for Geneva’s needy. This was the first event to take place in the center, and it was a fitting way for parishioners to show their gratitude for the center while using it to help others, said Marie Milligan, the community’s social-ministry coordinator.
“We thought it was kind of prophetic that it was used for the first time at Thanksgiving and in thanksgiving,” Milligan said.
Father Roy Kiggins, pastor of the Roman Catholic Community of Geneva’s two parishes, St. Francis de Sales and St. Stephen, blessed the parish center Dec. 16. As part of an open house after Masses that weekend parishioners had a chance to tour the facility, which includes a chapel, a meeting hall and a kitchen.
The parish center is housed in a portion of the former St. Francis de Sales School that was built in 1955 as a single-story addition to the building, Father Kiggins said.
The two parishes’ elementary schools merged in the mid-1980s to form St. Francis-St. Stephen School, which is located on the grounds of St. Stephen Parish. Since then, the original section of the St. Francis de Sales School building has been used for religious education. One of the 1955 addition’s four classrooms was temporarily used last winter as a daily-Mass chapel to save on heating costs, Father Kiggins said, but otherwise that section of the former school has been largely unused.
The parishes decided to transform the school addition into the parish center because they didn’t have a real chapel or adequate meeting or kitchen facilities, he added. Construction began in May and was mostly completed by November. By mid-December, the only thing left to do was wait for the arrival of some of the new furnishings, such as the chairs for the chapel.
The new chapel — which held its first daily Mass Jan. 2 — accounts for about half of the parish center’s space and has seating for 100 people. Father Kiggins expected to continue holding daily Mass there throughout the winter and possibly even through Lent, since it will cost much less to heat the chapel than it would to heat either church building. The chapel also is air conditioned — a feature neither of the church buildings have — so daily Masses might even be held in the chapel during the summer months.
The new meeting hall takes up about 25 percent of the parish center and can accommodate between 160 and about 300 people, depending on the configuration of the hall’s tables and chairs, Father Kiggins said. The remaining quarter of the building is occupied by the restrooms, supply areas and kitchen, which is home to an industrial-strength dishwasher, stove and freezer.
The entire renovation — including the construction and remodeling work as well as the purchase of new furnishings — cost the parishes about $600,000, Father Kiggins said. About $127,000 in Partners in Faith returns were used to fund the project as well as a project that transformed the first floor of St. Stephen’s rectory into a center for small meetings and receptions.
The bulk of the money for the parish-center project came from a parish fundraising campaign called Faith in the Future that raised money specifically for the center, Father Kiggins said.
“We thought (Faith in the Future) was an appropriate name because this facility will have a very positive impact on the future of the parish,” he said.
Approximately 470 donors pledged a total of about $360,000 to the Faith in the Future campaign, Father Kiggins said. The campaign is still going on, and pledge monies continue to come in.
So far, most parishioners seem to be pleased with the parish center. While it may not be considered luxurious, it is very practical and comfortable in design and ambiance, Father Kiggins said.
“I can only hope that as we use it, the benefits of it will be apparent, and over time those who might have had reservations might reconsider,” he added.
The parish volunteers who put together Thanksgiving baskets in the parish center seemed very pleased with the building, Milligan said. In previous years, volunteers had used several classrooms to sort the food, put the baskets together and distribute them, and the process sometimes took the better part of a day. This year, she said, volunteers were able to spread out in the meeting hall and do everything in one place, and the entire process was much quicker.
“It was the best year we ever had. It was much easier, and we did it in two hours. We could do it because we had that huge space,” Milligan said.
Milligan added that she is looking forward to holding other outreach events in the parish center, such as the Roman Catholic Community of Geneva’s annual Lenten blood drive.
“This is perfect for us. We’ll be able to do a lot of outreach from here,” Milligan said. “We never had a big place like this that was strictly for the church. We’ll always be able to … use this place.”