By Tom Holmes
Participants in the Kingdom Retreat on Saturday and Game Day on Sunday at St. Bernardine's Fearon Hall might not know where they are at first because of the extensive renovations completed in the hall and adjoining cafeteria just in time for the two events this coming weekend.
The list of elements included in the extensive remodel of the former school's basement, which began in January and cost the parish tens of thousands of dollars — Rev. Stanislaw Kuca, the parish pastor, declined to share the cost — included 25 items among which were: rebuilding the stairs to the parking lot, new flooring, installation of insulated security windows, painting the entire room, new blinds on the windows, and the installation of a new sound system.
Parish members who have experienced the remodel of Fearon Hall, including summer weekend Masses held there since June 29 — to take advantage of the air conditioning — seem delighted by the makeover. Contractors are rushing to complete the cafeteria and kitchen in time for the Kingdom Retreat this Saturday.
Jim Murray, a longtime St. B member and convener of the Kingdom Retreat, said, "I really enjoyed having Mass in the hall during the summer months. The place looks bright and cheery and the improvement in the bathrooms is excellent. I don't know how much it cost, but I think it was worth it."
David Meyer, who is blind, noticed certain changes in particular. He said, "My initial impressions are that it will be much more comfortable due to the new tables and chairs. I will be most interested in how the new sound system works. The old one was adequate, but not much beyond that."
Fr. Kuca noted that the changes were done in part for aesthetic reasons and partly to bring the facility up to code. "Everything, including the new multimedia capabilities makes the place more modern," he said. "In my opinion it will give the parish more possibilities for spiritual work and ministry."
"Will it help the mission of the church?" Meyer asked, then answered his own question, saying, "I don't know. If the hall brings in new parishioners, then it will definitely be helpful. Also, the hall could bring in additional funding, provided it is made available to rent to the general public."
The building at 815 Elgin in which the remodel took place housed the parish parochial school which opened in 1915 and closed in 2013 because of decreased funding due to declining enrollment. For the last six years, the upper floors of the building have been used for CCD (religious education) classes and by the Archdiocese of Chicago for storage.
In one sense, raising a lot of money for the remodel is a sign that the parish has finished mourning the school's closing and is moving on in new directions.
St. Bernardine's Kingdom Retreat will run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday, Nov. 9. The $15 registration fee covers breakfast, lunch, snacks and materials. Three speakers will share their faith journeys, each one followed by small group sharing. For registration, or more info, contact Jim Murray, 708-366-8427; Julia Doloszycki, 708-366-4382; Audrey Molaro, 630-510-1612; or Laura Hogan, 708-366-7304.