GREENFIELD — David O’Donnell uses the west door when he’s walking into and out of Mass at St. Michael Catholic Church.
Other parishioners may enter from the northeast or southeast corners of the church, closer to the parking lot. And for that reason, O’Donnell may not cross paths with them.
“There’s almost like three different communities, depending on which entrance and exit you use,” he said.
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The Rev. Aaron Jenkins, the priest at St. Michael, observes that happening at a Mass. He estimates 900 to 1,000 members attend one of the church’s three weekend Masses.
“It’s not uncommon for those folks not to know each other,” Jenkins said.
This month, the church has unveiled a $3 million capital campaign that organizers say will foster connection on several fronts. They say the plan would bring parishioners in at a larger common entrance, connect outlying classrooms to the rest of St. Michael School, and address drainage and parking issues surrounding the church building at 519 Jefferson Blvd.
Jenkins said the hope is to break ground at the end of summer in 2018 and build, starting with retention ponds, over the next three to four years. He said the Archdiocese of Indianapolis requires having the project fully pledged and half of the money in hand before doing it.
Plans include building a larger main entrance with gathering space on the east end of the church, closer to the parking lot. Jeanne O’Donnell, one of three campaign chairs, said the lot would be expanded to include more spaces in general and more spaces near the entrance for people with disabilities.
David O’Donnell, Jeanne’s husband and leader of the church’s facilities planning committee for five years, estimates about 25 to 30 cars are parked during Mass along Jefferson Boulevard, closer to the current main entrance on the west end of the building. The plan would include enough room for all of them in the expanded parking lot, he said.
Jenkins said that likely would be a relief to neighboring homeowners, who sometimes come home to a line of cars down the street. “We’re hoping it also helps out the neighborhood,” he said.
In addition to bringing parishioners in a common door, which Jenkins said is a benefit to both fellowship and building security, the new main entrance would offer space for overflow seating or for funeral viewings.
The new main entrance would make the east end of the building the back of the church; the substantial black altar would be moved from the east end of the church to the west, which means it would rest under a stained glass window of St. Michael, the parish’s patron saint.
“I think that will be a wonderful focal point,” Jeanne O’Donnell said. “I think ‘flipping the church,’ as we’re calling it, is a wonderful idea, and we’re excited about it.”
Jenkins said the challenge for architects was to devise a design that appropriately incorporated the Crucifix, the altar and the window. “The design we have respects all of those,” he said.
Nolan Hall, a classroom building north of St. Michael School, was a parish activity center when it was dedicated in 1978, before a new activity center was later built and the school needed Nolan Hall for classroom space.
A hallway would connect Nolan Hall with the rest of St. Michael School. Advocates of the plan say enclosing the space between buildings will keep students from braving harsh weather as they move back and forth and will enhance security for the school building.
The plan includes a new main entrance to the west, with Monroe Street extended north a little and a drive into St. Michael extending east from the church lot to meet it.
Greenfield Street Commissioner Tyler Rankins said the church has been meeting with city leaders about that aspect of the project. He noted traffic is “kind of a quagmire” at pickup time for the school and hopes the plan will alleviate that.
The parish also has been in touch with the city about what campaign leaders say is a foundational, if less glamorous, piece of the plan: drainage.
The church met city standards for drainage at the time it was built, but current standards mean if the church wants to build, the site needs greater capacity for water runoff. Jenkins said at times there’s a “swamp” at his house south of the church, and this is another piece of the plan that also might please neighboring homeowners.
“We hit a little snag there for a while because we didn’t have enough ground to do the retention ponds,” said John Davis, who chairs the St. Michael capital campaign along with Jeanne O’Donnell and Howard Green.
That changed a year ago, when a neighboring landowner sold the church five acres that lie north of Greenfield’s west water tower and the four houses east of it.
The church had been eyeing improvements for years; five years ago, when Monsignor William Stumpf was priest at St. Michael, he formed a team to make a facility master plan. The sale of the property allowed the church to move forward.
The reconfiguration of the church’s worship space means celebrating Mass in the gymnasium for a while, and upgrades to the sound system and HVAC are planned for the gym to make that season more bearable.
Such changes also would improve a space that’s often rented out. “I think that would make it more attractive if we had a better system,” Davis said.
Cards have been set out at St. Michael for asking questions about the plan, with the intention of answering them in the church bulletin. But Davis and other campaign leaders say most of the feedback they’ve received has been positive and that many seem excited.
“We’ll all get to know each other more, and it will prepare the parish for the future,” Jeanne O’Donnell said. “Nothing huge has been done to the church since it was built … people need to feel comfortable and secure in their surroundings.”
In his Dec. 3 homily announcing the campaign, Jenkins noted that while some members might live in a house built in 1965 or earlier, they had likely made upgrades to it since then — and so it is for a house of worship.
“This is a visible expression of our inward faith,” he said. “Sometimes we need to renew that.”
More information on the capital campaign, along with preliminary architectural drawings, is available at stmichaelsgrfld.org/future-planning.