‘Bishop W. Shawn McKnight scattered holy water onto the walls and floor of the new base of outreach for Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri (CCCNMO).
“It is blessed!” he told Dan Lester, the agency’s executive director.
An Oct. 16 dedication and open house marked the near-completion of a yearlong expansion and transformation of the former Shikles Center, which originally served as a chapel and gymnasium for a Catholic seminary.
CCCNMO, the Jefferson City diocese’s charitable outreach agency, is an affiliate of Catholic Charities USA. It works in partnership with local parishes, ministerial alliances, faith-based organizations and community agencies throughout the diocese to assist people in need.
The CCCNMO staff in Jefferson City will move into its new building and set into motion an impressive slate of charitable works, including a client-choice food pantry, as soon as back-ordered fixtures and furnishings arrive.
“This restoration process has been wonderful and amazing and challenging and fun, but we’re ready to do the real work, which is making a difference in the lives of our neighbors in need,” Mr. Lester said.
The previous evening, Bishop McKnight announced that CCCNMO had reached the goal of its “Open Hearts, Open Doors” campaign to pay for the new facility, through the generosity of many individuals and families throughout the diocese, coupled with several large gifts and grants.
“We have so much to be thankful for!” he declared.
The bishop presented a $1.5 million check from the diocese to help cover the cost of new programming at the center and for ongoing expansion of Catholic Charities and parish-based charitable service efforts throughout these 38 counties.
Mr. Lester said people’s generosity to the capital campaign reflects a distinctly charitable instinct among many in Jefferson City and beyond.
“We’re so blessed to live in such a generous and caring community,” said Mr. Lester. “You all make it possible for us to continue to answer the call to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick and the imprisoned and welcome the newcomer.”
Keystone contributions included a large gift from Diamond Pet Foods; a $750,000 matching grant from the J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation; $200,000 from the SSM Health St. Mary’s Foundation for purchase of the land and building; $225,000 from the Sunderland Foundation; $30,000 from the Raskob Foundation; and $50,000 from the Veterans United Foundation; and a gift from the Fechtel Family of Jefferson City.
Pledges and donations are still being accepted to help sustain Catholic Charities’ direct services and partnerships throughout these 38 counties.
“This new space will serve not only as a hub of charity here in Jefferson City but throughout the entire diocese,” Mr. Lester stated.
He offered a litany of thanksgiving for everyone who helped bring this multifaceted new hub of charity and mercy into being.
He thanked past and present CCCNMO board members, employees and pioneers.
“It’s the staff’s compassionate, caring and loving service that exemplifies what it means to love your neighbor as yourself, and I’m humbled every day that I get to be a part of that team,” said Mr. Lester.
He thanked board member Jim Wisch, who served as liaison for the construction project.
He also lauded the diocese’s current and previous bishop.
“I want to say thank you to Bishop (Emeritus John R.) Gaydos for his founding vision and determination to bring Catholic Charities to the Diocese of Jefferson City,” said Mr. Lester. “And thank you to Bishop McKnight for your ongoing, generous, fierce support for our efforts to continue to grow and expand our ministry.”
The Missionaries of La Salette operated a high-school seminary in Jefferson City from 1948-69. The core of what is now the Catholic Charities center was built for the seminary in 1956.
“Two years ago, it was no more than a wild dream,” the seminary’s Class of 1957 stated in its yearbook. “But now it is a dream come true.”
The building later served as a Catholic retreat and renewal center; a worship and outreach venue for another Christian congregation; a community center for the Jefferson City Housing Authority; and most recently as a dinner theatre and youth sports venue.
It was named in honor of the Shikles family, which donated money to install an elevator in the building in 1983.
The Housing Authority in early 2019 sent out a request for redevelopment proposals for the building, hoping to find a use that would be compatible with the surrounding neighborhood, where needs are abundant.
The completed facility will help meet those needs and many others throughout the diocese.
“We’re thrilled to bring this building back to part of its original intent, which is to serve,” said Mr. Lester. “We know that’s such an important mission of the Church, to reach out to people on the margins and be able to care for them and serve them.”
The center will include a full-service client choice food pantry, a community wellness clinic, and space to integrate and enhance services to the local community and the entire Jefferson City diocese.
“True living example”
“By the grace of the Holy Spirit, make this place a house of blessing and a center of charity and mercy, where the faithful come to visit Christ in the person of their brothers and sisters,” Bishop McKnight prayed at the dedication.
The ceremony also included a presentation of proclamations and a ceremonial ribbon-cutting by representatives of CCCNMO representatives and the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce.
Jefferson City Mayor Pro-Tem Dave Kemna presented a proclamation on behalf Mayor Carrie Tergin, designating Oct. 16-22, 2021, as Catholic Charities Week in the city.
State Rep. Rudy Veit, whose district includes part of Jefferson City, presented a Certificate of Recognition from Gov. Mike Parson and the Missouri General Assembly.
Nick Borgmeyer, architect and project manager with SOA Architecture, led the design team for the renovations and additions to the Catholic Charities center.
His objective was to turn a 65-year-old building with a storied past and strong community connections into something ideal for its current uses.
“When you renovate an existing structure, you want it not just to comply with the building codes,” he said. “It has to work well and function correctly, now and in the future. So you work to make it lasting and flexible.”
He said working for a client that truly appreciates the building being worked on makes a project all the more enjoyable.
“You get behind the mission of each project you work on, and it’s a lot easier to do that if you share faith with those who are using the building and an appreciation for the work they’re doing in the community,” he said.
A member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Jefferson City, Mr. Borgmeyer has also worked with the building’s previous owner.
“The Housing Authority put out a request for redevelopment,” he said. “They wanted to see this building put to good use. The mission and goals that Catholic Charities had in mind aligned with those of the Housing Authority.”
He noted that Catholic Charities was looking for an appropriate location to serve many people in need, “so this was a great opportunity for them.”
He said the building itself is substantial and well built. [removed line break] “When you talk to any of the guys who worked on the construction, when they had to take out portions of concrete for different things, they said, ‘That’s some good concrete. This place isn’t going anywhere,’” he said.
The center will also be kind to creation. An expansive array of solar panels and state-of-the-art equipment for harvesting energy from the sun and earth make it of the first nearly net-zero energy-use buildings in Central Missouri.
Mr. Borgmeyer said he thinks two of Catholic Charities’ defining characteristics are compassion and understanding.
“It’s always interesting to learn people’s story and how you can fit into that story and hopefully help improve it,” he stated.
Some of the light from the chapel filters out into the center’s community room through a tall, slender stained-glass image of Jesus pointing to His Most Sacred Heart.
The window was made in Ireland and originally adorned the chapel of the former Cathedral of St. Joseph Parish Convent in Jefferson City.
The convent was home to Sisters of Mercy of Swinford, Co. Mayo, Ireland, who staffed the St. Joseph Cathedral School from 1960-90.
About 38 Sisters of Mercy from several convents in Ireland worked in Jefferson City, Columbia, Kirksville, Wardsville and the diocese’s missions in Peru.
The last of them, Sister Gertrude Gallagher RSM (1916-2016), served here from 1972-74 and from 1984-2003.
Her outlook on charity and mercy aligns with Catholic Charities’ approach to providing care and creating hope:
“If I am looking for a picture of God, or looking for God, where do I find Him? In everybody I meet!” she told The Catholic Missourian in 2001.
“That is the Lord’s way of talking to me.”