LA GRANGE – Parishioners at St. Francis Xavier Parish in La Grange have pledged millions of dollars toward a renovation and construction project at the church, in addition to nearly a million dollars worth of aid to parishes in Chicago and the south suburb of Harvey.
Business manager Jennifer Zeisloft said the project began when St. Francis Xavier surveyed its parishioners in spring 2014. She said churchgoers indicated they wanted more of a community feeling at the facility and expressed concerns that certain areas were not handicap accessible.
She said the parish agreed to hire architects to work on the construction of a new gathering space and renovation of the parish school's gymnasium and cafeteria/social space, Joyce Hall, so long as parishioners were able to pledge the amount needed to fund the work.
In total, St. Francis Xavier parishioners pledged $4.6 million toward the effort, Zeisloft said. Of that total sum, $750,000 will be set aside for educational scholarships at St. Agatha Parish in the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago, and $159,000 will be used for capital improvements at Ascension – St. Susanna Parish in the south suburb of Harvey, she said.
About $3.5 million will be used for construction costs at St. Francis Xavier. The parish celebrated groundbreaking ceremonies for the project after Masses on May 21 and 22.
Zeisloft said the church serves 2,500 families, and 580 children use the parish's day school. An additional 1,000 children attend religious education programs at the school as well, she said.
"The renovation of the gym and social hall definitely benefit all those children who use it," Zeisloft said. "The gathering space will be used primarily by the church for wakes, adult education meetings and wedding photos."
The ceilings in the gymnasium and Joyce Hall will be replaced, she said. The gym floor will be replaced, and new tile flooring will be installed in Joyce Hall, in addition to a couple extra meeting spaces and a handicap-accessible bathroom. She said the gym and Joyce Hall were constructed in 1953, and the church was built in 1930.
Zeisloft said construction crews will break ground next week, and it's expected the renovations will be completed by the time school starts in late August.
The new gathering space will take longer to construct, she said. The brand new edifice will connect the church with the school and include an entrance that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Phase one of the construction project will be completed by January 2017, but the building won't be usable at that time, Zeisloft said.
"If the pledge money comes in, we can continuously build that with occupancy by spring 2017," she said. "We have all the pledges, the payments just need to come in."
Zeisloft said the new structure will be completed next summer, at the latest.
She said parishioners were told it could take five years before enough payments are collected for construction to begin. She said the church received payments on the pledges much sooner than expected, which accelerated the capital project.
"We thought it might be 2019, but here we are in 2016 breaking ground," Zeisloft said.
The donations to the two other parishes stem from a program instituted by the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago several years ago, she said.
"The parishes that were stronger financially were asked to assist the parishes not as strong financially to help carry Christ's message," Zeisloft said. "They asked each parish able to assist to pledge a certain amount of money. We said we wanted to pledge $900,000 to this program."
The goal of the construction and renovation projects is to maintain, enhance and expand the parish facilities, she said.
"This capital project will help us provide additional space for St. Francis Xavier parishioners of all ages to pray, learn and serve," Zeisloft said.