By Wally Kennedy
Ground was broken symbolically Thursday to mark the beginning of a new chapter in the life of St. Mary’s parish in Joplin.
“Our life is full of many chapters, and so is our parish,’’ said Bishop James Johnston, with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau.
Gathering under a tent that shielded them from a drizzling rain, about 200 or so members of the parish and several guests watched as adults, children and church officials turned the dark soil with shovels for the $13.5 million building project at the northeast corner of West 32nd Street and Central City Road.
Welcoming the parish to the neighborhood were firefighters from Joplin Fire Station No. 6 who attended the groundbreaking ceremony. The new station is located across the street from the church property.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church, the rectory, elementary school, parish center and St. Vincent de Paul building, all near 25th Street and Moffet Avenue, were destroyed by the tornado on May 22, 2011. The parish sold much of the land it owned at that location to the Empire District Electric Co. to allow the utility to expand its nearby substation.
The parish will construct a new St. Mary’s Catholic Church, elementary school, offices and parish center on the 47-acre tract of land. The new church will be larger — growing from a seating capacity of about 400 at the former St. Mary’s to about 750 — and the new school will be designed with room for expansion.
The new church will have a reflecting pool/retention pond and a large cross, similar to the iron cross that survived the storm. The new church, school and parish center have been designed by RDG Architects, of Omaha, Neb., to have the feel of a village.
“This is a wonderful time as we begin this new phase for our parish family,’’ said the Rev. Justin Monaghan as he helped deliver the blessing. “This just gives us a whole new boost to rebuild, revive and rejoice.’’
Monaghan said the construction emphasis will be on the new school, which will be completed by August 2014. It will house children in pre-school through the fifth grade. The church, he said, should be ready by Christmas of 2014.
Donations to help St. Mary’s rebuild came from all over the country and from other churches. Not much was saved from the old church, except for the sacred vessels, and some of what was saved, including a statue of St. Mary, is being repaired.
The Rev. Justin Monaghan praised the bishop and committee members for their work and noted that the church community, which is celebrating Mass in a temporary site at 1230 E. Seventh St., is excited about having a permanent home again.