On the way

On the way

Spring Lake parish plans to replace school with larger, new education center

SPRING LAKE — St. Mary Parish plans to fix two problems with one solution.
By constructing a new 22,000-square-foot education center, the parish will solve the issue of an out-of-date 15,000-square-foot school built in 1954 and give the pre-school, after-school, faith formation and Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults programs a new home. Those programs meet now in the church.
Now all the parish has to do is raise the estimated $5 million.
In just one month it has made a new start.
Since beginning a pledge drive a month ago, the parish already has raised $1,876,280 from 43 percent of the congregation. The pledges are expected to be paid off over the next three years.
“The Diocese of Grand Rapids requires that 50 percent of the total project cost be cash in hand, along with establishment of a viable funding plan before permission will be granted for us to move into the construction phase,” said Fr. Dan DePew, pastor at St. Mary. “We will now seek additional community-based funding.”
Fr. DePew and a campaign committee of parishioners have been setting the groundwork for the “Mary, Seat of Wisdom” capital stewardship campaign the past two months. They outlined the project for parishioners through a series of information meetings in December. They followed up with a prayer period in January, a commitment weekend in February with the announcement of the first month’s totals at Masses the weekend of March 8-9.
“During the commitment weekend,” said Fr. DePew, “we invited the entire parish family to meet for fellowship and to confidentially register their financial intentions towards this important campaign. Since then, we have been collecting pledges and registering donations and we are just overwhelmed with joy at how generous people have been with the total amount pledged to date.”
The school at 421 E. Exchange St. has been deemed to be beyond its life expectancy. It currently serves 212 students in preschool through eighth grade from among 1,250 families who live in Coopersville, Ferrysburg, Grand Haven, Fruitport and Spring Lake. The church, which sits adjacent to the school, houses a preschool and after-school extension program, as well as faith formation and RCIA programs.
“I am a fifth grader at St. Mary’s School,” said Olivia McKenna. “My siblings have all gone to St. Mary’s. We have been thinking of building a new school for a long time. We are not building a new school because we want one. We are because we need one. We could use the new building not just for the school but also for faith formation and other activities that include the parish. Masses are filled with parishioners that are graduates of Catholic schools.”
The proposed center will provide state-of-the-art technology and space to accommodate more than 500 students, including those in young 5’s, preschool, kindergarten through eighth grade, plus faith formation education, RCIA and other faith-based ministries in one building. The new center will be constructed within the next three to four years at the Exchange “This is shaping up to be a blessed year for the entire St. Mary’s community and for the Tri Cities,” said Fr. DePew. “With our initial pledges received to date, our commitment towards constructing a new, updated education facility that will help children in the region grow spiritually and academically is on the road to becoming a reality.”
The new targets for the capital campaign are people who live in the community and are not members of the parish. It also will reach out to alumni, such as Rita Michlitsch, a biomedical engineer with the Zimmer Corp., in Minneapolis, Minn.
“I was part of the first kindergarten class at St. Mary’s,” she said. “I spent my formative years learning the skills necessary to succeed in high school, college and eventually in industry, from training my brain by memorizing poems in Mrs. Parsons’ class to having a masterful grasp on the English language because of Sr. Marie Jude’s insistence on having perfect grammar. St. Mary’s prepared me to make the jump from an eighth-grade class of 14 to a graduating high school class of nearly 500, to a college with 20,000 students. Even though I was a small fish in a big pond at each of my steps, the education I received from St Mary’s helped put me on a path where I knew I could succeed and shine regardless of how many other students were also trying.
“I am one of four Michlitsch children who went through St. Mary’s and three of the four of us went to Purdue University to pursue a degree in engineering. I majored in mechanical engineering and graduated in four years. I could have pursued a career in any number of fields, but my Catholic faith and the lessons I learned from the faculty and education at St. Mary’s helped guide me to a career that has a focus on helping others. I graduated from college in 2006 and have since worked in the medical technology industry, making products from diabetes test strips to spinal implants. The foundation that St. Mary’s gave me helped guide my career and I would be honored if I could help guide the future of other St. Mary’s students.”
The education center is being planned, said Fr. DePew, to help lay the foundation for students to receive not only solid theological but moral teachings.
“So far, we have had 469 families respond with pledges and they have taken a leap of faith with their generosity,” he said “We will never realize what this education center will mean to the community, nation and world. Parents tell me their children grow up to become active in the communities where they live as well as in their church families. That is why this center is bigger than ourselves.”
The new center is expected to enhance overall parish life by weaving the school, faith formation and school ministries together into one main campus.
“I go to our religious education classes and am amazed at what our catechists and our Catholic teachers do in the classrooms each day,” said Fr. DePew. “The teachers and students are in love with their faith and this uplifts the whole idea of the building not only being brick and mortar but a place to enhance the faith lives of generations to come.”
To make a pledge, or for more information, call Fr. DePew at (616) 842-1702.

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