Faith-filled hands pound nails for their priests

| December 21, 2011 | 2 Comments

Faribault parishioners join together to build House of Gratitude

Bill Sartor, left, Gerardo Paramo and Tom Merrill prepare to install planks on the second floor of the new rectory they and other volunteers are building at Divine Mercy in Faribault. Merrill came up with the idea to build a new rectory for the priests, and Sartor is the chair of the building committee. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

A few small words etched in concrete at Divine Mercy Church in Faribault tell a big story.

Associate priest Father Erik Lundgren came up with the message, which he pulled from the opening verse of Psalm 127: “If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the builders labor.”

This Scripture passage is now engraved on the sidewalk of the new rectory being built by a dedicated team of parish volunteers.

For Father Lundgren, Father Kevin Finnegan, pastor of Divine Mercy, and a group of 150 workers, this seemed like an appropriate greeting to everyone who walks up the sidewalk of the new rectory. They are hoping to complete what they are calling the “House of Gratitude” in the summer of 2012.

Ahead of schedule

Father Finnegan had figured a rectory eventually would be built, given that the new Divine Mercy church was completed in the summer of 2009. He just wasn’t expecting a new residence so soon.

“I’ve been at the St. Lawrence rectory for 11 years,” said Father Finnegan, who has been pastor of the three parishes that merged into Divine Mercy during that time. “I’ve never lived anywhere else that long. It’s time for me to move, I guess.”

Though there is no rush, things are going ahead of schedule, said Bill Sartor, a member of the rectory building committee who was one of the first to get involved.

In fact, there has even been talk of finishing the 4,000-square-foot house by Divine Mercy Sunday, which annually occurs the Sunday after Easter and will fall on April 15 in 2012.

“We’re actually two months ahead of schedule,”?Sartor said. “We’ve been pushing really hard. We’ve been working five to six days a week for the last month.”

Organizers of the effort said businesses have sold them materials at substantial discounts. Coupled with the money saved on labor, they estimate the cost of building the house will amount to about two-thirds of what it would normally cost.

Thanks to the many volunteers, plus what seems like more than a little divine intervention, Fathers Finnegan and Lundgren will be enjoying their new home in about six to eight months. But that fact is not necessarily what excites them the most.

“One of the cool things about building this house is that there are all kinds of people meeting each other [in the process],” Father Finnegan said. “They’re next to each other designing nails, slopping cement, digging holes — and being happy about it.”

The project quickly came to life back in the spring, when parishioner Tom Merrill had a profound spiritual experience last March during the parish’s annual youth mission trip to Arkansas. In a small group discussion, he talked about wanting to be in a better place spiritually to receive the Eucharist.

Out of that conversation came one simple idea:

“The more we give, the more we have room to receive the Eucharist,” Merrill said.

So, it was a matter of finding a way to give more. He also wanted to do it in a way that could express gratitude for the parish’s priests, who are the instruments for receiving the Eucharist. That prompted Merrill to call another parishioner, Jerry Hoisington, after he got back from the trip.

“I called Jerry and said, ‘What do you think if we got volunteers and built a house [for the parish priests]?’ ” Merrill said.

Hoisington responded favorably, and thus, the House of Gratitude got off the ground. A building committee was formed, consisting of Merrill, Sartor, Hoisington and Joe Varley. Later, three more members were added: Dennis Germann, Gene Von Ruden and Bill Cuddington.

Turns out they had no trouble recruiting volunteers to do the construction. As Merrill put it, “The problem was, everybody kept saying yes.”

Not only have they been able to put crews of about 12 volunteers to work five to six days a week, they also have parishioners bringing meals out every day and prayer teams offering regular petitions.

Led by the Spirit

Those who pound the nails are feeling the effects of those prayers. On a recent morning, they were scheduled to pour concrete into the walls on the second floor, a measure that provides both strength and energy efficiency. With subsequent steps requiring this process to take place first, they were hoping to get it done on the day it was scheduled.

But, there was one problem — the weather forecast called for rain all day. If the precipitation came as expected, they would not be able to pour the concrete and would lose one precious day of labor.

The rain fell at dawn and stopped at 9 a.m., exactly when the crew was scheduled to start pouring concrete. Then, the rain held off for about an hour and a half and started up again just minutes after they were finished.

“To me, this is another sign of God’s hand,” Merrill said.

One volunteer says God has been a part of the process from the beginning.

“The committee was led by the Holy Spirit,” said Jim Smith. “The way that it came together was certainly beyond the power of this committee. It truly was a gift from God.”

Said Merrill:?“The Lord provides everything we need on this project. It’s just been an amazing experience.”

House of Gratitude prayer

God our Father,

In sending Your Son, Jesus, You proclaimed the Good News to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, and liberty to captives.

You bind up the brokenhearted and mend the wounds of the afflicted.

You forgive the repentant heart and call all to be united to you.

You have given us the great gift of ordained priesthood to be a sign of your faithfulness and covenant love for your people.

Thank you that through our priests, you pour upon us the sacramental graces that flow from the Sacred Heart of your Son, Jesus.

As we build this House of Gratitude, may we all as one body turn our hearts more fully to you and receive from you the glorious vision of your heavenly kingdom, our true home. Amen.

Mary, Queen of the clergy, pray for us.

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