Parishioners at St. Mary’s renovate their church while supporting the diocese.
Founded in 1858 and home to almost 600 families, St. Mary Parish celebrates a rich legacy of Faith and service. When he arrived 11 years ago, Monsignor Roger Scheckel, the pastor of St. Mary Parish in Richland Center, recognized a physical and spiritual need to revitalize his new parish’s church and school. “I have seen for over a decade how well this parish has served the people of Richland Center,” said Monsignor Scheckel. “There is a long tradition of active participation, and everyone is eager to stay involved.”
Understanding his parish’s enthusiastic generosity and being aware of the need to renovate his church’s nave and aging flooring, Monsignor Scheckel saw the Inspired by the Spirit campaign as an opportunity. He shared with his parishioners that they could renovate the parish while supporting the campaign’s goals of strengthening parishes, preserving the Diocesan Center, and positioning the diocese for the future. Befitting the parish’s long history of participation and generosity, the parishioners of St. Mary Parish responded.
A project of this magnitude only happens with enthusiastic support and passionate leadership at the parishioner and pastoral levels. Accordingly, Monsignor Scheckel approached Julie Peckham to chair the project’s leadership team.
“I agreed as long as I did not have to stand before the congregation and give speeches. I also asked Monsignor Scheckel for a co-chair to help. He said, ‘Don’t worry about that. I will find one for you to help share the work.’ He approached my husband, Paul, a few weeks later and asked him to serve as the co-chair. He said, ‘Of course.’ We were happy to do it. Being a long-time member, I know practically everyone in the parish,” said Julie. “Being a small parish has its advantages over a large parish. It’s easy to know all or most people in our parish, and news travels fast.”
Indeed, when Monsignor Scheckel asked Julie and Paul to lead the parish effort, their Faith was central to their positive response. Paul shared, “I grew up in this parish. Julie and I were married here just about 40 years ago. At that time, she joined the parish, and all seven of our children have received their sacraments here. They went to school here. And I had the pleasure of walking each of my four daughters down the aisle when they married. Some of our grandchildren have been baptized here. So, St. Mary’s has always been a part of our family. It’s our home. It’s our spiritual home. So, you know, then, you will get involved.”
I do think that everybody was most excited about what was going to happen. Our church is really beautiful, and this project would make it even more so.”
Once Paul and Julie agreed to lead the effort, the planning process began by forming a small committee, which included Monsignor Scheckel, Deacon Donald Tully, and Administrative Assistant Cheryl Blankenship. The committee collaborated with the campaign team to leverage the parish’s distinct strengths. The committee set a goal of securing enough funding to replace the floor with new tiling, remove and refinish the pews, install new lightweight kneelers and repaint the entire interior.
Julie and Paul also wanted to ensure the project included and accounted for every parishioner. In doing so, the committee heard all ideas, thoughts and opinions on the proposed plans. “We wanted everyone to have a chance to come and learn about the Inspired by the Spirit campaign. Everyone needed to have the opportunity to ask questions about what was being proposed and why the improvements were needed. We held two receptions to share information, listen to questions, discuss proposals and share food and fellowship. At that time, pledge cards were handed out, and parishioners were asked to prayerfully consider giving, no matter what the amount. And if their financial situation did not allow them to give to the campaign, we asked for their prayers for its success.”
During the receptions, Monsignor Scheckel highlighted the other needs across the diocese that the parish’s efforts would support. To prepare for the meetings, Paul, Julie and Cheryl traveled to Holy Cross Diocesan Center in La Crosse, where they met with Vice Chancellor and Archivist Father Kurt Apfelbeck. Father Apfelbeck led them on a personal tour of Christ the King Chapel and Holy Cross Diocesan Center, which is home to active and retired priests, the Catholic Charities offices, the House of Formation for Vocations and the diocesan curia. Paul and Julie said, “It was good to see the Holy Cross Diocesan Center up close. It was very convincing that there was a real need to do work there as well. It is easy to get on board to support the campaign when you see it with your own eyes.”
With their inclusive approach and by clearly demonstrating the parish’s needs, Paul and Julie helped the parish wholeheartedly embrace the project. Paul said, “I do think that everybody was most excited about what was going to happen.” Julie added, “Our church is really beautiful, and this project would make it even more so.”
Support for the project came quickly. Fundraising began in August, and the parish met the goal in only three months. All of the renovations were funded by 80% of the total amount raised, and the remainder supported vocation efforts, senior priests, parish ministries and more. Construction began after Christmas, and through the many hours of labor and love needed to complete the renovation, it was finished in time to celebrate Easter.
Paul and Julie credit Monsignor Scheckel for inspiring the parish and leading them to a tremendously successful campaign. Paul shared that “He was instrumental in guiding the project. He did the heavy lifting. Monsignor contacted every parishioner, either by a personal visit or a letter, so each parish member would hear from him personally. We believe everyone was made to feel that their participation in the Inspired by the Spirit campaign was needed and welcomed.”
With renovations complete and a healthy dose of support given to senior priests, parish ministries, and the diocese’s future, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary parishioners exemplify what can be achieved, locally and across the diocese, with prayerful commitment and generosity.
Story by Robert Rogers
Published in the May/June 2023 issue of Catholic Life Magazine