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St. Gabriel 'Becoming the Beacon of Hope'

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Hereis an architect’s rendition of changes coming to the St. Gabriel Catholic School and church campus,viewed from the rear of the church. The convent at the corner of 9th and Grand will be demolished and the playground moved there. A new gym and cafeteria will be built on the current playground. In later phases, the 1926 school building next to the church will be demolished,to be replaced by a parish life center, a park and three classrooms.
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The former convent at St. Gabriel Church will be demolished this summer to make way for a new playground, as part of the first phase of a plan to modernize St. Gabriel Catholic School.
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The entrance to St. Gabriel School’s 1926 building faces 9th Street. In a later phase of abuilding program, thestructure will be replaced by a parish life center, park and three new classrooms. The limestone facade, statues and other artifacts will be preserved.

By BOB HANSEN - bhansen@newsexaminer.com

Believing that their church and school can better serve its members and should also reach out to include more of the community, St. Gabriel Catholic Church has embarked on a major building project and is raising money to pay for it.

Called “Building the Beacon of Hope,” plans call for demolition of two structures on the church/school campus, moving the playground, and construction of a new gym and cafeteria building, a parish life center, three new classrooms and a park.

Church members formally started a capital campaign a week ago to raise $2.7 million for the work. More than $314,000 had been pledged by 11 parishioners by that day, according to Paul Nobbe, who, with his wife Joyce, chairs the advance gifts portion of the campaign. Contributors will have three years to fulfill their pledges.

The major part of the capital campaign will culminate on Commitment Weekend on Sunday, April 28, when members and others will be invited to support the project. Jason and Karen Graves are chairing the community portion of the campaign.

The decision to make these moves came about as a result of a year and one-half visioning and planning process. It started in 2014 when the Archdiocese of Indianapolis announced that the Connersville region would begin looking at how to make parishes more vibrant, Father Dustin Boehm, pastor, said.

St. Gabriel and St. Bridget, in Liberty, are linked together. The visioning process, which included town hall meetings in both locations resulted in a five-year plan called Becoming the Brightest Beacon of Hope in Our Communities, Boehm said. The parishes agreed that several things needed addressed, among them the facilities of St. Gabriel Catholic School.

“When it comes to the actual buildings, we wanted to focus on two things,” Boehm said. “First was empowering our parishioners and second was befriending our neighbors.”

The newest portion of St. Gabriel School is 62 years old, built in 1957. The school also uses its 1926 building, which is not completely accessible for people with disabilities. The school has more than 150 students; about 600 households are included in the parish.

Josh Marszalek, who chairs the building committee, said it is important to first have a mission and then decide what would be built to meet the parish’s goals. The parish has hired Chameleon Architecture to design the project.

In the first phase, which will start this summer if sufficient funds are on hand, will be to demolish the former convent at 9th Street and Grand Avenue. The large, two story brick house has not been used since the Hope Center moved out a few years ago and is in some disrepair, Marszalek said.

The school playground will be moved to that location.

Then, a large new gym and cafeteria will be constructed on the current playground location. It will provide up-to-date facilities for gym classes, sporting events and community gatherings. It will also include a stage and up-to-date kitchen.

“It would seem that is primarily for the school, and the children will use it,” Boehm said. “But it’s also for the entire community. It will allow us to move our Fall Festival back on campus. We can’t really use the current gym for any of that because of accessibility.”

It’s anticipated that the first phase will require $2.7 million being raised now. The parish anticipates that the second and third phases will require another $3 million, and they are calling $5.7 million the “Miracle Goal.” If that amount is raised, it won’t be necessary to have another capital campaign. If not, a second campaign may be required.

In the second and third phases, the 1926 school building will be torn down after salvaging the limestone facade, statues and other artifacts. Then, a parish life center will be constructed facing 9th Street, including a community room and kitchen. Three new classrooms will be constructed adjoining the 1957 school building. Behind the parish life center will be an open park. Open air pergola structures will connect the historic church building with the school and new facilities.

School children also are being involved in the capital campaign, Boehm said. Carrie Pfeiffer, a teacher at St. Gabriel, is chairing that involvement and some children already are doing extra chores to earn money to contribute. School based activities are also being planned.

Community members are also welcome to make donations.

Nobbe said anyone who contributes to the capital campaign will receive a gift of a cross hand-crafted from wood taken out of the 1926 building. Some 350 of the crosses are being made.

There are also naming opportunities for large contributions. Details on those are available on the website for Building the Beacon for Hope, www.churchcampaign.org/st_gabriel_connersville_in/.