Beyond Sunday funds add bounce to projects

Lisa Johnston |
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The new playground opened for business at about 10:30 a.m. for the 3-year-olds at Ascension Parish's Early Childhood Center in Chesterfield, better known as The Little School.

And the little ones wasted little time to go use it.

They scurried from the school — built in 1941 as the parish's original two-room schoolhouse — and went right to work, er, play.

Sophia Nguyen made a beeline for the swing. Mason Kerr and Halle Cooke wheeled about a tow truck. Lydia Kenagy and Laura Hermeto bounced happily on "Hopper" balls, a perilous activity just last school year.

"Look at them; they never had enough room to bounce before," marveled Mary Ellen Schweitzer, Little School co-director with Erica Argue. "And it was (on) such a rough surface, too."

Last year, the small concrete sidewalk and a deck-like music board comprised the only solid footing in the playground area, which was mostly covered with pea gravel.

"The kids were taking pea gravel home every day in their shoes," teacher Laura Swallow said. "They'd take their shoes off and get pea gravel all over the place."

But not any more. A rubberized playground surface has replaced the pea gravel, giving the little ones a bouncy, safe landing zone made possible by the generosity of Ascension's own parishioners in the Beyond Sunday capital campaign.

The primary focus of Beyond Sunday is Catholic education, with 60 percent of the pledges building an endowment to fund scholarships and grants well into the future. The secondary focus is the parishes, with 40 percent of parishioners, pledges returned to a parish to use as it sees fit.

With Block 3 parishes early in their campaigns, Blocks 1 and 2 parishes have already received their initial disbursements of the 40 percent. (The 40 percent share is paid twice annually over five years to each parish.) A total of $4.4 million has been paid back to 96 parishes in Blocks 1 and 2, with the second installment of $1.9 million going out in late September. Block 1 parishes also received disbursements in May.

Ascension's Little School playground surface is just one example of parishes benefiting from parishioners' largess. St. Joseph Parish in Farmington has broken ground on a St. Vincent de Paul food pantry. St. John the Baptist in Gildehaus plans to resurface its parking lot.

And as an example of St. Louis Catholic's giving nature, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in south St. Louis County recently received a $10,000 check — nine months after its campaign ended.

Whether the Annual Catholic Appeal, Beyond Sunday or the past Faith in the Future capital campaign for Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, St. Louis' faithful have been generous in paying forward benefits received through Catholic education and faith formation in Catholic parishes.

"We couldn't have done this without Beyond Sunday," Schweitzer said.

Same in Farmington, where the food pantry specifically grew out of Beyond Sunday.

"The Beyond Sunday campaign gave us the vision of what we decided to do with our 40 percent," pastor Father Rickey Valleroy said. "Beyond Sunday gave us that vision to go beyond Sunday. It's all ties in together."

According to Father Valleroy, St. Joseph's St. Vincent de Paul food pantry serves about 250 families per month. But it operates out of a shed across from the church, with barely enough room for storage and no room at all for basic creature comforts, like a waiting room or bathroom.

"Right now, there's no place for them to come inside," Father Valleroy said. "Only one person can come inside at a time; the others have to wait outside in the elements, extremely hot or rainy or cold."

With the new building, expected to be complete within two years, "we're gonna welcome them in Christ," Father Valleroy said. "We'll have a waiting room where they can actually sit down and wait their turn."

The building also will have bathroom facilities.

"Now, they have to cross the street and go down to our parish offices and go upstairs," he said. "We just needed a larger building."

Father Valleroy and Father Abe Arganiosa blessed the site on Sept. 27, the feast day of St. Vincent de Paul, with 124 St. Joseph School students and about 70 others on hand for a prayer service and groundbreaking. Father Valleroy and Father Arganiosa, Roman Catholic Foundation officials and local politicians broke the ground. Parishioners, volunteers and clients made up the 70, who were separated from the school children by a fence in a nod to "Protecting God's Children."

The new building "will be a real blessing for us," Father Rickey said. "I don't know that we would have done it at this point, but Beyond Sunday opened the doors. That's (what's) really cool about it." 

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