Jim Wisch and Doug Schrader were in the chapel installing the back-lit art-glass windows that shed light on the building’s heroic past and promising future.
Energy Link technicians were outside installing an array of solar panels that will provide most of the building’s electricity.
Things were starting to work together for good for those who love the Lord.
“I firmly believe that if you do the right things for the right reasons, everything’s going to work out okay,” said Mr. Schrader, project superintendent for the Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri’s (CCCNMO) nearly completed new headquarters and center for charitable outreach in Jefferson City.
The expanded and extensively remodeled former La Salette Seminary chapel and gymnasium is scheduled to be completed next month.
“This is going to be good for the community, good for the people,” said Mr. Schrader.
The solar array will double as a shaded canopy over part of the parking area for the client-choice food pantry that will occupy the building’s lower level.
State-of-the-art equipment for harvesting free energy from the sun and the earth will help make the center one of the first nearly carbon-neutral buildings in Central Missouri.
A lofty, light-filled space that was once a seminary chapel will accommodate community gatherings and events.
The former sanctuary area will serve as a small chapel, adorned with reminders of the prayers and works that originated in this holy space in decades past.
Among these are a vintage stained glass image of Jesus and His Most Sacred Heart, the building’s original cornerstone from 1956, and a wooden cross fashioned by Mr. Shrader from weathered cedar salvaged from the building’s former facade.
“I’m one of those people who when I see something like that, I think what’s part of the history should stay there in some way,” said Mr. Shrader.
The same goes for subtle traces of the building’s manifold uses since its seminary days — a retreat house, a house of worship for another Christian congregation, a community center for senior citizens, a youth sports venue, and a live theater.
“You’re basically taking an older building that had left its origins and has now come back to its origins, and turning it into something you can use,” Mr. Shrader said of the “Open Hearts, Open Doors” renovation project.
He said the building is sound, solid and worth rehabbing — scars and all.
“And you know, a lot of the people that are going to be helped here, they’ve got scars, they’ve got history, they’ve had problems, too,” he said. “So we made a conscious effort to leave some things the way they are. Why take all the scars away? It’s all part of the history, part of what it is.”
Mr. Wisch, a retired construction executive and active member of the CCCNMO board of directors, designed and created the two new art-glass windows for the chapel.
The first incorporates the corpus and banner from a crucifix given to Catholic Charities by La Salette Father René Butler, a former instructor at the seminary.
The crucifix matches the one two young visionaries saw the Blessed Mother wearing around her neck while weeping in an 1846 apparition in La Salette France.
The hammer and pincers on the cross are recreated from copper salvaged from another portion of the building.
“This first window tells our history and the important historical fabric which we are preserving for future generations,” Mr. Wisch stated.
The roses and eagle in the window echo the coat of arms of Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos, who as leader of the diocese founded CCCNMO in 2011.
The image of a quail — an allusion to the Eucharist and to God providing for the Israelites during their time in the desert — is reminiscent of Bishop W. Shawn McKnight’s coat of arms.
“Bishop McKnight has brought Catholic Charities to a new height with the construction of this new home and the many programs it will house that are intended to feed the hungry, welcome the newcomer and provide care for all who are in need,” said Mr. Wisch.
The background colors show the richness of creation, entrusted by God to His people for safekeeping.
“The ever-changing sky colors depict the beautiful orange sunrise, dark water-laden clouds and the bright blue sky — all colors from the Lord’s palette for us to enjoy,” said Mr. Wisch.
The second window illustrates the “Open Hearts, Open Doors” theme that describes the building’s future.
An orange heart in the sky symbolizes openness to all people, regardless of their religious faith, background or situation, and represents the Lord and His working through His followers’ generosity.
“The ray of light projects through the open doors of the stone wall fence, inviting everyone to enter and proceed on a path to eternal salvation,” said Mr. Wisch.
The way to the open gate is paved for easy following and is well illuminated beyond the threshold.
Mr. Wisch added a bluebird above the archway, representing Missouri, home to this Catholic Charities affiliate and the target of its charitable works.
“The stone wall represents us, the faithful, dedicated to the charitable mission of Catholic Charities,” he noted.
Some of the stones contain names, including founding and current members of the CCCNMO administration and staff, two priests of the Missionaries of La Salette who supplied historical information and materials for the project, and many of the people who are engaged in the building’s planning, design and construction.
The 1983 bronze plaque designating the building the Shikles Center now hangs next to the elevator that the Shikles family paid to install when the Jefferson City Housing Authority renovated the building for use as a community center.
The cross hanging near the ceiling in the chapel is one of the three Mr. Shrader has been called on to make in his construction career.
The first, fashioned from part of a handrail from the old Cathedral of St. Joseph Rectory in Jefferson City, adorns the roof of St. Joseph Cathedral School.
The second rises above the canopy outside the Resurrection Cemetery Mausoleum in Jefferson City.
He recalled helping Bishop Gaydos set the cornerstone of the St. Joseph Cathedral School addition into place in 2008.
“Before I started this job, I sat right there and prayed to God to help me get through this and be successful,” he said. “I do that on every job.”
“God will help you get through what you couldn’t get through on your own,” he continued. “He’s not going to interfere if you don’t want Him to. You’ve just got to have faith and ask Him to help you, and He’ll help you.”
He lauded Mr. Wisch and his wealth of construction expertise.
“When something comes up that’s a little unusual, he just rolls with it,” said Mr. Shrader. “You just don’t panic because there’s a way through just about everything. Jim knows it will all work out.”
Mr. Shrader pointed out the refurbished, almost life-size statue of the Blessed Mother that now adorns the front of the building.
It previously stood in the chapel of the old SSM St. Mary’s Hospital in Jefferson City before the current hospital opened in 2014.
The late Monsignor Joseph Vogelweid, longtime pastor of St. Peter Parish in Jefferson City, helped convince the Missionaries of La Salette to locate their high school seminary in Jefferson City in the 1940s and spearheaded the expansion of St. Mary’s Hospital in the 1960s.
Father Hillary Andebo, a missionary priest from Uganda who was serving as a hospital chaplain in Jefferson City, offered the last Mass in the old St. Mary’s Chapel in 2014.
“God has blessed us greatly here,” he stated in his homily that day. “We pray that when we go to the new place, our faith may continue to grow, and many more people will continue to be touched by God’s good hand and God’s good teachings and will realize that true life is in Him.”
The Missionary Society of La Salette is an international men’s congregation founded in France in 1852, in obedience to the Blessed Mother’s instruction to “be sure to make known to all my people” her message of repentance, reconciliation, and respect for God’s holy name and His Sabbath.
The late La Salette Father Arthur Lueckenotto, originally from Meta, attended the seminary in Jefferson City and later taught there before serving for decades as a missionary in Madagascar.
“We belong to a world Church, a Universal Church, not simply an individual parish,” he once stated. “We are all part of the Mystical Body of Christ, and some of our members are still suffering. So we have a duty, an obligation to think of others and try to lessen their misery.”
He emphasized that anyone can be a missionary — just by realizing that all people are part of the universal Church and the Mystical Body of Christ.
“Offer up your prayers, your difficulties and anxieties for the conversion of sinners,” he said. “Conversion comes from the grace of God. With your prayers and sacrifices, you might do more good than we do walking to the village.”
To contribute to Catholic Charities’ “Open Hearts, Open Doors” renovation, visit cccnmo.diojeffcity.org/give or send a check payable to “CCCNMO” to P.O. Box 104626, Jefferson City, MO 65110-4626.
For information about the ongoing renovations or to inquire about naming or donor recognition opportunities, contact Cristal Backer, CCCNMO’s director of development and outreach at 573-635-7719 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit cccnmo.diojeffcity.org.