Declines in Mass attendance, dwindling memberships, fewer priests, and aging buildings have led to the closings of churches and mergers of parishes throughout the Diocese of Toledo in recent years.
But Little Flower of Jesus Catholic Church is bucking the trend of churches facing cutbacks. The West Toledo parish is in the midst of changes that reflect growing membership and an optimistic future.
Ground is to be broken today on an expansion and renovation that will add 2,200 square feet of office space for both school and church use, including offices for the pastor, the Rev. David Nuss, and the principal.
The project also will give the parish a grander three-story tower entrance that will provide much-needed visibility from heavily traveled Dorr Street.
Currently, parishioners enter for Mass at the back of the church, which is blended into the prekindergarten-through-eighth-grade St. Benedict School.
"It is a leadership suite we are creating. It brings together the parish and the school," said Father Nuss, who has been at the parish since April. "With the addition of a three-story bell tower, we will be able to have a more prominent mark on Dorr Street."
The project's inception dates to 2003, when the parish steering committee crafted the study "Seeds of Faith" to focus on what could be done to serve the neighborhood, church, and staff better.
"A long and detailed self-study involving ministries and many members of the parish led to understanding what the needs were for the Christian community," said Mike Tressler, a steering committee member.
The study focusing on those desires was formulated through discussions among parish members and ministry leaders.
"The needs of the parish were listed, some more important than others. Plans were drawn and redrawn according to the reality of funding. Little Flower is known as a friendly and welcoming parish but is not a wealthy one," said Mr. Tressler, a longtime member.
Under the architectural plans created by Collaborative Inc. of Toledo, the church will gain a vestibule and gathering hall to serve both the church and the school.
A new sweeping driveway off Dorr will bring visitors and parishioners to the front entrance, augmenting the entrance off Olimphia Road that serves St. Benedict and the church.
"We are making a concerted effort to make a more permanent and lasting mark in the deposition of the faith of this community," Father Nuss said.
General contractor Rudolph/Libbe Inc. of Lake Township began preliminary construction weeks before today's ceremonial groundbreaking to ready the school for the project, which is scheduled to be completed in December. Only one classroom in St. Benedict has been taken out of service.
The elementary school was renamed St. Benedict two years ago, when the school and Our Lady of Lourdes School on Hill Avenue pooled their students and resources.
Principal Carol Huss said the new entrance will improve school security, a important factor that parents consider in choosing schools for their children.
Since the consolidation, St. Benedict has experienced an influx of students. "Enrollment here has been trending upward. Our collaboration with Our Lady of Lourdes has made us very strong," Ms. Huss said.
Tom Wisniewski, a parishioner since 1985, said the new entrance will create a user-friendly space for the school as well as the parish offices and prominently stand out along Dorr.
"It always has been kind of set back. I think that will be a good improvement," he said.
Contact Mark Reiter at: email@example.com or 419-724-6199.