Major expansion under way at St. Patrick Church, Urbana

By: By Jennifer Willems

Caption: Father Joseph Hogan, pastor, prepares to lead the groundbreaking for a $5.2 million expansion project at St. Patrick Church in Urbana on Nov. 16. The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems


URBANA — It wasn’t the coldest day of the year, but snowflakes were gently falling as ground was broken for a $5.2 million expansion project at St. Patrick Church here last Sunday.

While Father Joseph Hogan, pastor, quipped that he wanted to see if Father Joel Phelps, parochial vicar, would be able to put a shovel in the frozen ground, no one had any trouble making sure that work would be able to start on doubling the seating in the church and adding a proper gathering space with a lower level for classrooms and meeting space. When the project is done next year at this time, the church and parish center will be connected.

“As Catholics, in the month of November, we pray and think a lot about our deceased loved ones in heaven and the communion of saints,” Father Hogan said. “That’s very appropriate today, to look back with gratitude and give thanks to those people who have worshipped here, who have served here, who helped build this structure over the last 110 years.”

He said it was also a good time to pray for the current parishioners, who had the vision to undertake the project and have supported the effort in every way.

“We also want to pray for our future generations — those individuals who will benefit from what we are doing, the sacrifice we are making,” Father Hogan said.

After Father George Remm, pastor emeritus and honorary campaign chair, offered a blessing, he and Father Hogan sprinkled the ground with holy water and turned dirt — along with Father Phelps and officials from the building committee, art and environment advisory committee, and music advisory committee. Then several members of that “next generation” took their turn with the shovels.

The goal for the campaign, “Honoring Our Past, Building Our Future,” was $4 million. Parishioners exceeded that by $200,000 and Father Hogan said they are continuing to raise money so they can replace the slate roof on the church and install a new sound system.

Noting that “you only get one chance to expand a lower level,” he said they put more money into that by including a kitchenette. The multipurpose room is designed so that it can be divided into six to eight classrooms or opened up into one large hall for wedding receptions or parish events.

Father Hogan said the art and environment advisory committee has worked hard to keep the symbolism and structure of the church and main pieces, such as their signature “Rising Christ, but is incorporating new furnishings in order to accommodate another 200 people. A wood carver in the parish is also creating a new baptismal font, altar, ambo and tabernacle so everything will be unique to St. Patrick.

“There are so many things that are going to be wonderful about it,” Father Hogan said. “I actually think the gathering space is going to be amazing for people. They’re already so interactive, but they really don’t have the gathering space.”

Buildings aren’t the only things expected to change, however.

Excavation for the gathering space, lower level and plaza probably won’t start until February or March, Father Hogan said. Once the exterior work is done and the contractors break into the church, Mass will be celebrated in the parish hall for as much as three months. This will make scheduling for the parish’s 65 or more ministry teams even more challenging.

Last spring, Father Hogan formed a Sabbath Renewal Team to develop a program that will bring people together in small groups to study “The Joy of the Gospel” by Pope Francis. The 10-week renewal program begins in January and will be held in homes or other locations, according to Mary Long, a member of the team and the former pastoral associate at St. Patrick.

“Just as the church will be different at the end of the expansion project, we don’t want to be the same as we are now,” she said. “We want to be growing spiritually.”

The program was written over the summer and training for the small-group leaders took place in October. The materials have been translated into French for use by the parish’s Congolese community and a one-page version in English, French and Vietnamese will be included in the bulletin so everyone will still have an opportunity to participate, even if they can’t join a small group.

Long said they hope the groups will continue to meet as base communities or faith sharing groups once they finish the Sabbath Renewal Program. That works into the parish’s long-term goals, she added.

“One of the things we’ve focused on is it was 40 families who built this church that carried us 100 years — more than 100 years. If they had built just for themselves it would have been a much smaller church,” Long explained.

“Here we are 100 years later. We have a parish of over 1,200 families and it’s because they had a vision for the future that we are here today,” she said. “That’s why we’re honoring them and building the future. We’re setting the parish to keep going another 100 years.”

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