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New J.C. hub for Catholic Charities gets a boost from St. Mary’s Hospital Foundation

This article originally appeared on the Catholic Missourian’s website. READ THE FULL ARTICLE ONLINE

By Jay Nies

It was built to be a chapel and gymnasium for young men discerning a call to Priesthood in faraway missions.

It later served as a senior center, youth sports venue and home to a local theater group.

Now back in Catholic hands, it will be remade into a multifaceted center of charity and the corporal works of mercy.

“Having a resource center within walking distance for those who are in need of food, basic healthcare and other charitable and educational services is our dream,” said Bishop W. Shawn McKnight.

He spoke at a Jan. 31 gathering in the Shikles Community Center building on Linden Drive, not far from Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City.

Members of the St. Mary’s Foundation Board of Trustees presented the bishop a $200,000 gift toward the estimated $4 million cost of buying and upgrading the building.

When completed, it will serve as a new headquarters for Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri (CCCNMO) and a hub for helping people in need.

Also present were representatives of the Catholic Charities staff and board of directors, the Jefferson City diocese, the Jefferson City Housing Authority and the St. Mary’s Foundation.

“I wish to acknowledge and thank St. Mary’s Foundation for their leadership in providing us with a ‘down payment,’ if you will, on this important venture for our community,” said Bishop McKnight. “We are all better off when we pull together our resources to meet the needs of those who are less fortunate.”

He noted that there will be numerous opportunities to help and contribute before the building can serve its intended purpose.

“We are estimating the need for about $4 million to fund fully our dream for this facility,” he said. “I invite everyone in our community to consider how they might share in this work of love through a financial gift and by volunteering their time and talent.”

What it will be

Preliminary renderings by Architect Nick Borgmeyer of Simon Oswald Architects point to the transformation of a solid structure.

“It’s got good bones,” retired local contractor Jim Wisch, a member of the CCCNMO board of directors and the Shikles redevelopment planning committee.

Plans call for a 38-foot addition to the front of the building and upgrades to the utilities.

The former auditorium will be reconfigured for use as an after-school care program, a health clinic and other community services.

The area that was once the sanctuary of the La Salette Seminary chapel will become a quiet room for prayer and reflection.

The former gymnasium downstairs will become a food pantry, including a waiting room, shopping area, demonstration kitchen, warehouse, loading dock and packaging area.

New administrative offices for CCCNMO will be built in a mezzanine area overlooking the food pantry.

A large parking lot will be added, providing full access for people with disabilities.

Unified vision

CCCNMO Executive Director Dan Lester said he was thrilled to welcome the group “to our new home.”

“It definitely needs a little bit of work, a little elbow grease here and there,” he said. “But I think we can make it shine it like new.”

St. Mary’s Foundation Board President Greg Meeker said the foundation is “very thrilled to plant a seed and make an investment in the community with this endeavor.”

“We look forward to what’s going to happen inside these walls as it extends outward of these walls,” he said.

The St. Mary’s Foundation raises money to sustain and enhance the life- and health-giving work of SSM St. Mary’s Hospital in Jefferson City.

Foundation Director Bev Stafford said the Catholic Charities project was an easy vision for the Foundation board to embrace “because it does, in essence, further our ministry of healthcare outside the walls of the hospital.”

“This certainly is something we will hold and cherish — helping establish this resource center for our community,” she said.

Different but the same

Originally built in the late 1950s, the walls of this building carry the weight of local history.

The bishop spoke from what was once the sanctuary of the chapel for a former high school seminary for the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette.

Many in Jefferson City remember attending retreats and devotions on the then-sprawling seminary grounds.

“What we’re doing now is reclaiming part of our Catholic heritage,” said Mr. Lester.

He recalled how the building had been the spiritual hub of a Catholic institution that prepared missionaries to minister to and advocate for people in great need all over the world.

One of them was the late La Salette Father Arthur Lueckenotto, a Meta native who served for 45 years in Madagascar.

“What this building was is an essential part of the story of what it will become,” said Mr. Lester. “The area around it has grown up and changed, and here we are, coming right back around again to express that love in a way that is different but still the same.”

“That’s pretty amazing!” he said.

“Blessed of the Father”

The Jefferson City Housing Authority bought the property and converted it to a community center after the seminary closed in the late 1960s.

The Housing Authority renamed the building in 1983 after Helen A. Shikles, wife of longtime commissioner Lonnie Shikles, who made a contribution toward installing an elevator in her memory.

When the building became available, Sister Kathleen Wegman of the School Sisters of Notre Dame worked on behalf of the diocese with the Housing Authority, the St. Mary’s Foundation and Catholic Charities on a unified vision for the property.

Catholic Charities offers a variety of services to residents in need throughout the 38-counties of the Jefferson City diocese, providing care and creating hope through compassionate social services that respect the dignity of each person and engage the local community.

Bishop McKnight led the people at the gathering in prayer: “In His great love for all of us, Christ said that whatever we do for the least among us, we do for Him. He called those who show mercy ‘blessed of the Father’ and promised them eternal life.

“Let us then pray for the Lord to enrich His blessings on all the benefactors who are devoted to helping their brothers and sisters who are weak, who are sick or who are unfortunate and to make possible this new center of mercy and charity in our own community,” he prayed.

Mr. Lester believes the new center will unite people from various walks in life in helping others while growing in their relationship with God.

“Bishop Mc­Knight has really instilled within our whole diocese a sense that we are better when we’re working together,” said Mr. Lester stated. “It is my prayer and my hope that this space will become a truly shining example of that ideal.”

To learn more about the ongoing renovations or to volunteer or donate, visit the new Catholic Charities website at