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- Executive Summary
- St Mary Culture
- Themes of Parish Transformation
- The Evolution of the St. Mary Campus
- Methodology of Needs Assessment
- Space Needs Summary
- Options for Space Resolution
St. Mary parish was founded by missionaries in nearby Lyons in 1873, and early on built two small churches at other locations. The parish received its first diocesan Pastor in 1885 and moved to its present campus in the 1920s. A significant reevaluation of the facilities has occurred naturally every 20-25 years. The last large building project, an addition to the school and the development of a Parish Center, began its planning process in 1993 and was dedicated in 1997. The subsequent renovation of the church interior was part of this planning process and was dedicated in 2003.
A Master Plan is a roadmap of goals, encompassing where the parish is now and where it needs to be in the future. The plan is to be a concise and defined declaration of goals based on assumptions about parish life, and includes directives to guide the layout and maintenance of the physical facilities. These goals must be approached in time intervals and must remain flexible. The St. Mary Pastoral Council commissioned such a plan in January 2012. This happened at the same time the Archdiocese of Chicago was implementing a professionally-facilitated program for parish planning called “Parish Transformation.” St. Mary participated in this program in the spring of 2012. In that process, St. Mary’s built environment emerged as an important piece of the puzzle. One action item in the final document was development of a Facilities Master Plan.
Riverside is an example of a well-considered master plan. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux just after their creation of New York City’s Central Park after the Civil War, it was conceived intentionally to foster the best aspects of a small, rural community though it is minutes away from Chicago by commuter train.
With consideration to how the location and people of St. Mary parish are unique as a community, while still being part of the Archdiocese of Chicago and the greater Catholic Church, this report will document the following:
- St. Mary Culture
- Themes of parish Transformation
- Major Changes to the campus 1920 – Present
- Methodology of Needs Assessment
- Space Needs Summary
- Options for Resolution
THE CULTURE OF ST. MARY
Our parish culture reflects its many sources. One significant influence is its location in a village with its own unique beginnings within the field of urban planning. The Olmsted-Vaux plan commissioned by the Riverside Development Association in the 1860s was one of the first examples of a planned community. In 1970, the Riverside Historic District was designated as a National Historic Landmark, as “the prototype of a comprehensively planned and landscaped suburban community in which the natural features have been preserved and added to in order to offer the benefits of rural life.” (1968, NHL Nomination Application). This history attracts parishioners, even from areas strictly outside this historic district, with significant interest and pride in a thoughtfully conceived physical environment.
It is remarkable that much of the original Olmsted-Vaux vision of what “community” means remains intact today. The original plan emphasized curving streets, an abundance of public parks or commons, large lots with few visible fences, and trees planted in irregular clusters screening homes set back from the road. Today these physical characteristics continue to encourage less traffic and therefore a slower pace; the green space promotes outdoor living and knowing your neighbors; the space provided for larger homes has traditionally supported larger families, though today there is a variety of family sizes and types that are part of the community. There is such a feeling of “home” that many grown children of Riverside are drawn back to make their own life with a new generation.
Even more importantly, as a Catholic parish we are part of a much larger faith community. The greater Church has changed significantly over the past few decades, in an effort to be more inclusive. During the 1950s and 60s, the parish was central to most Catholic families in Riverside. It was the social scene for these families and the obvious education option for their children. There are some who are troubled by trends over the last 50 years which include declining Mass attendance, declining school population, and the general transience of the faith community. This can be seen in the Archdiocese and Church as a whole, and St. Mary parish is not immune to these trends.
However, we have also fared better than many. Our parish has produced many examples of deep faith, including several men who have devoted their lives to the Priesthood or the Deaconate. Our school continues to attract students from surrounding areas. Existing ministries within the parish are being rejuvenated and new ministries are being formed. We have a small but strong program for adult formation led by our deacon couple. We have accommodated the changing times while still maintaining many of the traditions of our parish that long-time members hold dear. The Parish Transformation process identified themes that contribute to this balance between stability and change.
In 2012, St. Mary parish participated in an Archdiocesan program called parish Transformation. The program aims to assist parishes in identifying the core identity and mission of their particular community, and to develop an action plan to enhance and support that mission and identity. All parishes in the Archdiocese will eventually have such a plan. The full parish Transformation plan now in place is being managed and updated by the parish Pastoral Council. The program was open to all parishioners, and consisted of weekly meetings over twelve weeks. In these meetings, there was reflection and discussion of scriptural passages and the seven building blocks of Christ’s Church. There was also an examination of measurable aspects of the parish and School such as statistics regarding the makeup of our parish, its mission, and its financial footing. The final meetings included the adoption of a Mission Narrative, and the compilation of an Action Plan which is to be regularly reviewed by parish leaders with the Bishop. The development of a Facilities Master Plan is only one action item from this plan. Excerpts from the Mission Narrative which guide this effort include:
“Our mission at St. Mary is to respond vibrantly to God’s call to holiness by reaching out in friendship to those in our parish, our community, and in the world.
We seek a richer knowledge of our faith in Jesus Christ so we may more fully respond to His call to love God and our neighbors.
We recognize that the family is where most people come to know our Savior. It is in smaller and more family-like settings that our knowledge of God, his Son and the Holy Spirit is most deeply formed…with a sense of hospitality and welcome, we share our prayer and worship with all we meet or who come to us.”
Therefore, the most important conceptual goal for our facilities is to create places which support a spirit of welcome. However, this can mean something different to various individuals or groups, and so it is important that our facilities respond on as many levels as possible while also displaying good stewardship of resources. This means maintaining and using the gifts we have received from prior generations while looking to see what new facilities we might need to advance the mission of the parish and the larger Church. It means serious commitment to our buildings and landscapes not in themselves, but as visible expressions of our fidelity to our beliefs and the ministries that flow from them.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE ST. MARY CAMPUS
The parish moved to its present site on Herrick Road when the current church building and its attached school were dedicated in 1926. First the priests, and later the sisters who taught in the school, lived on the second floor and classes were conducted on the first floor. At the time the facility was planned, there were 500 parishioners and 49 students in grades 1-6. The vision to build a church large enough to seat 500 and a school with eight classrooms was quite a commitment for this growing parish – large debt was taken on, and parishioners subsequently held many small benefits in their homes and gardens during the Depression in order to repay the debt. Their foresight was validated however, as the community continued to grow through the next two decades.
By 1950, there were 2,800 parishioners, and 400 students at the school. Private homes had been purchased during the 1940s for use as a rectory and a convent. Still larger accommodations were needed, and so a separate school building with an additional 10 classrooms and a school office was dedicated in 1950. A proper Convent followed in 1959. During the 1950s and 60s, the parish social community was in its heyday. Almost all women were a part of the Catholic Council of Women, with various sub-committees performing ministries as well as social clubs. As with other parishes, providing a Catholic education was the largest and most important ministry. As was customary at the time, no tuition was charged at the school. The number of parishioners swelled to 4,600 and there were 750 students enrolled at the school by 1960. During this time, the parish compensated for the small size of the church by scheduling as many as ten Masses on the weekends.
Twenty years after building the school, St. Mary again decided to look toward its future. The existing rectory that was home to three priests was also the site of many social gatherings. However, it was falling into disrepair. The decision was made to build new, “modern” living quarters on one of three available lots and to demolish the house. This created the green space now known as “Mary Park.” (Mary Park is not a village park, but remains parish property. St Mary Parish may keep it as green space or develop it at any time within zoning regulations.) The new rectory retained the features of a communal living and dining room, which could be shared with the community at the invitation of the priests, and added small offices at the front in which to conduct parish business. Private areas for three priests were provided per a new standard of a bedroom, bathroom and sitting area. Room was also set aside for a housekeeper. The rectory was completed in 1975.
During the late 1970s and 80s, many changes in Church culture were felt in Riverside. A new emphasis on leadership among lay people resulted in the naming of the first parish Pastoral Council. This group and others saw opportunities in several lots adjacent to church property that became available. However, consensus for those purchases did not materialize. Instead, the empty lot immediately west of the school was eventually sold and a house was built between the school and an apartment building. At the same time, family size was shrinking and so was the number of sisters available to teach the schoolchildren. Following the trends in Catholic education at the time, more lay teachers were hired and St Mary School began charging tuition. It also began offering kindergarten classes. During the late
1980s, school enrollment started to decline as did religious vocations generally.
The cycle of reexamination and renewal in terms of the facilities continued. True to parish tradition, a strategic plan was begun in 1993. One focus of the process was to stabilize the school. Plans were made to build a gym and to expand the school to provide more classrooms, which would allow for at least two classrooms per grade level and a preschool program. Since no additional adjacent land was available, the parish expanded the school through variances to zoning codes granted by the Village Board to allow building nearly to the property line on the west. The front of the school was reconfigured and the school offices were replaced. The addition also housed new bathrooms and additional classrooms across the hall from existing rooms. The gym extended south into the parking lot and the addition of a link allowed school children to pass between buildings indoors. The parish bought and removed a house east whose lot now provides additional parking nearer the church.
Another concern was planning for a future with potentially a single parish priest. The resulting comprehensive plan, which was a good example of what is known to architects and urban planners as a “Master Plan”, proposed an expanded church structure to accommodate more worshippers within a restricted Sunday Mass schedule. Thus, the twin goals of investing in the future of the school and also the potential for a single priest were clearly identified. In 1995, fundraising began for this important enterprise. But, although many parish families supported the plan, there was no single large donor. As the fundraising stalled at $3 million, the parish decided that expanding the school was more important than expanding the church. Adding the parish center with its gym was integral, since it would also be used for events by the whole parish community.
The parish center and expanded school were completed and dedicated in 1997. The wisdom of many of the choices made during that time is clear. The gym is indeed used for many community events. It also supports a sports program; many Catholic schools without robust extra-curricular programs such as sports have suffered declining enrollment and have ultimately closed. St. Mary school enrollment has varied between 300 and 400 students since 1980, supporting two classrooms per grade. The preschool and full-day kindergarten programs continue to be important offerings that expose many families to the school and the parish itself. The concern of being reduced to a single-priest parish has not materialized, and instead of relying on a reduced Mass schedule, a Sunday evening Mass was added due to parishioner requests. Today there are 5,200 members of the parish, 350 students in the school and an additional 40-50 in the preschool program, as well as about 400 students in the Religious Education Program (RE).
Compromises to St. Mary Parish’s 1995 Master Plan have produced effects still being felt today. Because parishioners then were concerned with raising the $3 million in funds required, the convent building was sold as “seed money” in 1996 to fund the school expansion and parish center. At the time, no sisters lived there, but it housed the RE offices and some of its larger rooms were being used for meetings. Maintaining such a large building was expensive. There was some extra space in the rectory; only two priests were living there instead of three, and the housekeepers’ quarters were used for guests. “Millie’s Lot”, east of the Church parking lot, was known to be coming to the parish through a bequest. There seemed to be plenty of future options, and so the convent was sold and was converted into a private residence. Parish RE offices moved “temporarily” into the pastor’s private rooms and the pastor moved to two smaller rooms on the second floor. Parish business and ministry meetings began to be held regularly in the rectory basement, living room and dining room. The parish continued to prosper and expand into new ministries. Sister Margaret was hired as Pastoral Associate and given one of the priests’ offices near the rectory entry. More staff was required, and a Business Manager and Bulletin Editor soon took up residence in the rectory’s guest suite. Before long, the Pastor himself acutely felt the lack of privacy inherent in this situation and decided to rent a condo off-campus. In 2002, a radically scaled-back renovation of the church interior took place. It provided no increase in seating capacity, and in that sense concluded the relevance of the 1995 Master Plan.
Clearly, through this time period the parish showed great stewardship of resources. There was no rush to build to solve space issues, but rather a great creativity and willingness to collaborate to make all spaces perform as efficiently as possible emerged. Any construction loans taken from the Archdiocese were quickly paid back. However, the continued strain of “making do” became apparent over the course of the 2000s as parishioners recognized that the pastor living off campus and the sub-par living situation for our priests had become unacceptable. Parish leadership was fatigued from fundraising to support the buildings and some maintenance projects on roofs and parking lots were deferred due to insufficient funds in the short term. The long-term Master Plan for the facility from the mid-90s had been partially completed, then compromised, and ultimately abandoned.
In 2008, the parish was blessed with an unexpected bequest of $1.1 million. Using this one-time gift to build a new rectory seemed like a clear solution to overcrowding without seeking additional parishioner support in a time of economic uncertainty. The pastor also recognized an upcoming trend: Archdiocesan priests retiring in increasing numbers would need places to live. When a priest retires from an active placement with a parish, he is free to live where he chooses. Many turn to their fellow priest friends, because they are used to living in community and many rectories house just a single priest. The retiree typically offers his clerical services to assist at the parish where he is living. Building an attractive living situation would not only spiritually support the priests assigned to St. Mary, but could also be opened to clerical “free agents” that would be willing to share in the spiritual life of our parish by choice. With this in mind, the Pastor and the lay leadership of the parish moved forward with a plan for a new rectory.
Unfortunately, the plan was not integrated into an update of the previous or creation of a new Master Plan. After parish discussion the project was shelved. This brings us to the present, a re-vitalization of the Master Plan based on the results of our Parish Transformation process.
METHODOLOGY OF NEEDS ASSESSMENT
The Parish Transformation process produced an action plan that represents the strategic vision and direction of the community. The Plan is a living document, with individual items that can be tested and then continued or discarded; new items can be added all the time, it has room to grow. The important thing is that there are underlying concepts and a vision to which all actions are oriented. For St. Mary, those concepts, presented in the Mission Narrative are:
- Strong Families
- Deep Faith
- Spirit of Welcome
One of the first actions that pertained to the facilities was to form a Building and Grounds Committee. The mission of the committee is to advise the pastor regarding various aspects of the facilities, including reviewing inspection reports, ensuring safety issues are properly addressed, investigating opportunities for more efficient management of the buildings, and providing recommendations to prioritize needed repairs and replacements. Through this committee, a sub-committee known as the Facility Steering Committee was formed to initiate a new Master Plan process to evaluate whether or how the facilities can better support the concepts of the Mission Narrative.
The methodology employed has been to assess needs through discussion meetings open to all parishioners, as well as through interviews and questionnaires. To kick off the process, three Parish Intake Meetings during the summer of 2013 engaged as many people as possible to take in as much information as possible. The format was simple. After a brief presentation, a brainstorming session was conducted to identify two lists regarding space: what is “Working” and what is “Not Working.” After discussion, each participant received a set of adhesive dots through which they could place emphasis on any items they wished. They could choose to emphasize what was working or what was not. They could place all of their dots on one item for strong emphasis or divide them up. From this a weighted list of issues was identified.
In interviews, parish and school employees described their responsibilities, how they work, and how they currently use the space. They also frequently pointed out things that could work better. A few shared passionate plans for expanding the scope of what the parish does today.
All volunteer ministries were given a presentation in May 2013 prior to the development of the 2013-2014 calendar for scheduling meeting or event space. They were asked to observe how they used space, and to reflect on how they might think anew about issues such as storage and technology. At the beginning of 2014, paper surveys with the questions discussed were distributed to these ministries through the Parish Council and the Bulletin Editor. Please see the parish website for a full list of subjects and dates of interviews through summer/fall 2013; a list of ministry groups that returned a survey regarding their use of meeting rooms and related technology through winter 2014; and a list of Working/Not Working priorities identified at Parish Intake Meetings, summer 2013.
SUMMARY OF THE SPACE NEEDS ASSESSMENT
After conducting interviews, and looking at the uses of the current space, the needs were separated into six categories and a square footage number was assigned to each use. The six categories are:
- Worship Space
- Living Quarters
- Offices and meeting space for parish Staff and Ministries
- Education Space (as the parish’s biggest ministry)
- Community Space
- Outdoor Space
The church interior was deemed to be generally working. The Masses on the weekends that are well attended are not quite overcrowded, and there are many Mass times where the church is not filled. There are some special occasions, such as Christmas, Easter, sacramental Masses (First Communion and Confirmation) and monthly All-School Masses where there is not enough seating, but that issue has been dealt with acceptably by using the Parish Center. As in every other category, there are some suggested improvements that could be undertaken independently, and some maintenance issues to be addressed. There are “wish list” items that are not high priorities, and there are “nice-to-have” items which can be addressed only if they are possible within the context of other proposed renovations.
Worship space occupies about 8500 SF now and this is not expected to increase.
The current rectory was designed for three priests and a guest to have private suites, and for the living and dining spaces to be communal spaces. This model is appropriate and would still serve our purposes today. With only two priests assigned to St. Mary, there is a benefit to having space to attract retired priests. Although guest quarters would not be used with great regularity, they would still be very useful, especially with priests who may have a desire to host close family. The private spaces were originally designed with a bedroom and a sitting room, but 40 years ago a home office was not even in the thought process. The three priests’ suites should be expanded to include a private work space as well as the sitting room. Meals can still be taken together, and the spiritual and communal lives of our ordained ministers will undoubtedly benefit from greater privacy, so we recommend that the living room and outdoor patio area should be converted back to a space for use at the Pastor’s discretion, rather than for frequent and regular meetings and conducting business.
There is about 5,000 square feet in the current rectory, including the basement. Approximately 1,400 square feet is used for offices and meetings, uses which should be moved out of the building. The existing rectory could easily be used exclusively for living quarters and not be too big. The rectory should be converted back to its original use, with necessary renovations completed to increase its functionality for present-day living.
OFFICE AND MEETING SPACE
The parish employs 11 full-time and five part-time administrative staff in addition to the school faculty. The staff, if they have a dedicated space to work, is divided between the Rectory and the School Office, with a few exceptions. The full-time staff all work closely together on day-to-day business, but the physical separation of the staff can sometimes result in diminished communication and diverging priorities.
The positions that do not have dedicated space are typically part-time, though it can reasonably be assumed that some of these positions might convert to full-time in the future. Some of these have make-shift offices in areas occupied by other uses due to a lack of available space. It can be conservatively assumed that dedicated offices for these staff members are required, and the staff may continue to increase.
Deacons are not technically employees and currently nearly all of the work is done either from home offices or meeting rooms if on the parish campus. There are many activities that have potential for growth which need to be supported with additional small meeting rooms.
Various parish ministries have been created or experienced a revitalization in the last ten years. For example:
- The Girl Scout program has grown from a few participants in 2002 to over 120 girls meeting in troops at every grade level nearly every school day.
- The Service Outreach Committee was created in 2009, and has since spawned off-shoots dedicated to Refugee Support, and Domestic Violence Education and Support. These committees hold monthly meetings and other events.
- The Knights of Columbus chapter and the Building Committee were reformed in 2012, following Parish Transformation. Both of these hold monthly meetings.
- The Senior Sages program and dinner series began in 2012 and has activities every other month.
During this time, only one group holding monthly meetings has disbanded. All of this activity has evolved to produce an increased strain on facilities – there are more meetings and events to be scheduled, less room for last-minute rescheduling (which leads to more groups trying to block space “just in case”), and more overlapping uses. While some of this is good stewardship, and our parishioners always exhibit a flexibility and willingness to work with other groups, there is a limit to what is appropriate or possible in one space.
It must be noted that “ministries” include most after-school activities. The classrooms and other support spaces used primarily by the school are separated here and included in the Education section.
Currently, the parish staff and ministries occupy approximately 6,000 square feet spread across the campus (not including the Parish Center). The recommendation is to add 4,000 square feet to this total including increasing the number of offices from seven to eleven and adding two small meeting rooms nearby. Two additional large meeting rooms should be added to the two current rooms, and all meeting rooms need better support resources and management of shared technology. Finally, all offices and meeting rooms should be located together.
During faculty interviews, one of the teachers at the school profoundly pointed out that we have a little work to do clarifying the school’s target market – “Who is it that we are trying to serve? What does that student need?” Nevertheless, the pastor has recognized that in order to have the financial resources to provide a quality education, enrollment will need to remain steady. Therefore, an ideal size for the physical school building will continue to be two homeroom classrooms per grade, Kindergarten through 8th grade, as well as various “specials” classrooms devoted to rounding out the educational experience. One area that could be explored in the future is a program for full-day preschool, which would require a second classroom. Also, following educational trends, the faculty has expanded to include small-group instructors, known as “coaches.” These coaches provide support to the homeroom teacher by holding smaller break-out groups during class time, but they need rooms in which to teach. Finally, the collaborative nature of newer teaching methods is not supported well in classrooms dating from the 1920s and 1950s. A dedicated faculty planning area with storage, an area to meet with colleagues and parents and also for socializing, would be a welcome addition.
The Education function occupies the greatest amount of space at over 30,000 square feet. This includes the Religious Education Program, which shares use of all of the school classrooms, and also has dedicated storage space and office space. The recommended additions of one early education classroom, more small break-out classrooms, and a faculty planning area could be accommodated in 1,000-2,000 square feet. However, this addition could be neutralized by overlapping some functions more appropriately and sharing the space with other parish needs, specifically the staff and ministries.This would require a much greater reshuffling of locations and the associated cost of renovation, but would have the additional benefit of re-thinking the layout in terms of security.
Therefore, in summary, it is recommended that the Education space remain consistent to the present in terms of size, but possibly shift location. A planned renovation would also give the opportunity to more fully address the needs of technology (ever-increasing needs for both power and data wiring) and other aging classroom finishes and furnishings.
For the purpose of this analysis, the only space that was considered a truly shared resource across the board was the Parish Center. This would include the Parish Center Lobby and the restrooms in that area. This large gathering space is used for physical education for the school students, sports teams (open to school and RE students), annual events pertaining to the school (concerts, school plays, etc), annual events pertaining to the parish (fundraisers, clothing and toy sale, blood drives, retreats, etc), overflow for worship space (All School Masses, Christmas, and Easter) and is even open to the public for one-off events – if they can find a time that it is available! What it does not do effectively is provide a place for after-Mass gathering, because the location is not convenient. This function is still being served by the Oak Room, which at the same time is scheduled for use as a Cry Room during the Masses.
A better-situated community space near the church would separate after-Mass promotions from a Cry Room, and could also be explored to function for after-school activities. Currently, the Parish Center and support spaces occupy about 9,500 square feet. An additional community area of about 1,500 square feet should be considered.
The various green spaces around the campus are highly prized. There may be a need for additional parking per zoning regulations, and the most obvious place to gain parking is Millie’s Lot. The current parking lot also needs to be resurfaced, and some consideration might be given to a “green” surface such as pavers.
PRIORITIZING THE SPACE NEEDS
- Remove the offices from the rectory and return it to dedicated living quarters. Renovate the building to provide more privacy for residents while still offering them space to socialize.
- Provide additional meeting rooms and offices. Since there is currently very little space on the campus that does not already have multiple uses, new space will need to be created or acquired.
- Increase security and control access by clustering spaces to more easily monitor their use. The question of security needs to be balanced with the desire to maintain a culture of openness and welcome.
- Add a community space, located in such a way to capture traffic after Masses. This can be a multi-function space, provided it serves to ease over-use of other areas and not simply be a duplication of space.
- Enhance the education of parish children by supporting the use of updated teaching techniques and technology. Provide small classrooms and more space for teachers to work collaboratively. Add a second preschool classroom in order to support an expanded program.
- Reduce potential disturbances in the Church during week days by providing an alternate place for school children to eat lunch.
OPTIONS FOR GAINING SPACE
- Acquire existing built space outside of the current campus, either through lease or purchase. The uses best suited for relocation would be offices and/or meeting rooms. An existing home could also be purchased for use as a dedicated rectory. A survey of available property in Riverside in Spring 2014 yielded very little space available that is the size required, and nothing located in the immediate vicinity of the campus. Because there is a strong desire to locate offices close to other parish facilities, the Steering Committee has opted not to pursue this option further at this time.
- Build a new, separate structure on the existing campus. Because of the high value placed on Mary Park, the next most obvious location is Millie’s Lot. However, further study is required on the most efficient place to add parking, and that may also be Millie’s Lot.
- Add on to existing structures. Adding space to the rectory itself would not solve the problem of giving priests a dedicated living space. Therefore, a more appropriate solution would be to add on to the church/school complex. Additions could be grouped or split. Areas that would not affect current parking lots include expanding in the area of the Parish Center entrance/flagpole, the Preschool garden area, or the courtyard between the church and school.
CAMPUS MASTER PLAN
A Master Planning Committee was formed in late Spring 2014 to meet with JNKA Architects in order to develop a series of plans for the campus buildings which address the space needs identified. Budget estimates were applied to final layout options, and all of this information will be presented to the parish in Fall 2014. This Report and Master Plan therefore represent the final recommendations submitted to St Mary Parish as of September 30, 2014.