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Transformation well under way for new Catholic Charities headquarters

This story originally appeared in the Catholic Missourian. Read the full story online: Catholic Missourian Website

By Jay Nies

Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri’s new headquarters in Jefferson City will be one of the most energy-efficient buildings around.

The renovated and expanded former La Salette Seminary chapel and gymnasium will include an array of solar panels and a geothermal heating and cooling system.

“That will make this one of the first ‘near net zero’ buildings in central Missouri,” said Dan Lester, executive director of Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri (CCCNMO).

Not only will that mean lower utility costs, it will be much easier on the environment.

“As Catholics who take to heart the call to be stewards of God’s creation, we’re pleased to be able to incorporate this important teaching into our everyday work and witness,” said Mr. Lester.

CCCNMO purchased the building, known since 1983 as the Shikles Auditorium, from the Jefferson City Housing Authority in 2020.

Work began in November to renovate and substantially expand the building and transform it into the agency’s new headquarters.

It will include a full-service food pantry, a community wellness clinic, and space to integrate and enhance services to the local community and the entire Jefferson City diocese.

The $4 million project, funded through an ongoing capital campaign, is on target for completion in July.

“We want everyone in the diocese to be excited about the reality of this moving forward,” said Mr. Lester.

An anticipated blessing and opening in August would coincide with the 65th anniversary of the building’s original construction.

Generous support for CCCNMO’s “Open Hearts, Open Doors” Capital Campaign, coupled with a $225,000 grant from the Sutherland Foundation of Kansas City and a $750,000 challenge grant from the Mabee Foundation of Tulsa, Oklahoma, brings the project to within $769,453 of its goal.

A $1.5 million matching gift toward programmatic efforts has been offered when people donate to the “Open Hearts, Open Doors” renovation.

This dollar-for-dollar match, along with the Mabee Foundation challenge gift, ultimately means donations have tripled the impact.

“We’re very pleased to have found these new avenues of support in which a $10 gift turns to $30,” said Mr. Lester.

Under one roof

Once completed, the 16,000-square-foot complex will bustle with activity.

The former chapel will be home to classroom, meeting and event space, a health clinic and other community services.

The expanded 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.

More than 12 weeks into the building’s transformation, Mr. Lester is amazed at the progress.

Workers recently poured the concrete foundation for the 4,500-square-foot, two-level addition, which will include the food pantry’s warehouse.

The food pantry, to be operated in partnership with The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, will be a “marquee ministry,” attracting people from an area of concentrated need in the city.

While there, clients will also have access to health and nutrition services, disaster response and preparation, and immigration services.

“Integrating all of these under one roof will make it easier for us to make referrals, giving people access not just to healthy food but also immigration help or mental health or a flu shot,” said Mr. Lester.

Inside and outside

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed both the need and potential for other services, including mental health.

“This location would be ideal in that we’ll have space that could be used for group therapy and help for individuals and families,” said Mr. Lester.

Catholic Charities personnel are laying the groundwork to offer the same services remotely through a secure Internet connection.

“That would mean having a trained mental health provider in Jefferson City provide services to someone as far away as Knox or Clark or Hickory County,” said Mr. Lester.

That’s just one of numerous ways the building could be used to provide services far beyond its physical footprint.

“The more we can figure ways to do things remotely or provide delivery of services in the community, the better for the people we’re trying to serve in the long run,” said Mr. Lester.

“We visualize it being a hub of outreach in the diocese in a lot of different ways,” he said. “As eager as we are to use this space to offer services to people who come to us, we’re realizing how necessary it will be to find ways to take the help to people where they are.”

He hopes the integration of technology and a growing volunteer base will expand options for the food pantry — from online ordering and pick-up to at-home delivery to people who are elderly or homebound.

“We’ve had practice with the monthly senior food boxes,” he noted. “We’ve had volunteers from a number of faith-based groups and other groups who have been helping with delivery.”

Holy ground

Mr. Lester contacted the archivist for the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette, which built the former chapel and gymnasium in 1956 as part of a high school seminary it operated from 1948-69.

The archivist made digital images of scores of photos of the chapel and surrounding buildings in use by the seminarians and local Catholics who made retreats there each year.

After the seminary closed, the property became part of a surrounding neighborhood built and maintained by the Jefferson City Housing Authority.

Mr. Lester is eager to incorporate artistic echoes of the building’s original use into its redevelopment.

He’s pleased about plans to include a small chapel in the area that once served as the building’s sanctuary.

“We anticipate making that available to people who come here as a place for silent reflection,” he said.

Good neighbors

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

“There are lots of great things going on all over the diocese, and we’re really blessed to be a part of that,” said Mr. Lester.

Mr. Lester looks forward to Catholic Charities sponsoring events that draw the building’s neighbors along with people from nearby Helias Catholic High School into fellowship.

“There will be opportunities for community-building as well as providing social services,” he said.

He believes the new headquarters will unite people from various walks of life in helping others while growing in their relationship with God.

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

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 cbacker@cccnmo.org, or visit cccnmo.diojeffcity.org.