SLINGER — As renovations near completion at St. Peter Parish, pastor Fr. Rick Stoffel believes the project will help the church serve its increasing membership.

An aerial photo of St. Peter Parish, Slinger, shows the progress of the $5 million renovation project which will increase seating capacity of the church. Renovations also include a new meeting space, more parking, modernized kitchen and a coffee shop. (Submitted photo by John and Nancy Lee)

Exterior work is being done as part of a $5 million renovation project at St. Peter Parish, Slinger. The renovation will increase seating capacity of the church and will include a new meeting space, more parking, modernized kitchen and a coffee shop. (Submitted photo courtesy St. Peter Church)

When the parish broke ground on a $5 million renovation last February, the most imminent need was increasing seating capacity and repositioning pews and kneelers to address the projected growth.

According to Paul Rogers, pastoral associate, the project moved forward after the publication of the Vision XXI document, “2020 Parishes and Pastoral Leadership,” the Priest Pastoral Leadership Plans for the Milwaukee Archdiocese that envision the tri-parish cluster of St. Peter, St. Lawrence and Resurrection parishes be served by one priest by 2020.

“This means fewer Masses, which means we will need more seating capacity,” he explained. “We have a disproportionate number of our diocesan priests approaching retirement. Over 70 percent of all Milwaukee diocesan priests are currently 60 years of age or older.”

Archdiocesan in-house projections suggest there will be 100 diocesan priests in full-time parish ministry in 2020, he noted.

In addition to increased seating, the renovations include new meeting space, parking, a modernized kitchen, church hall facilities, a larger gathering space, child-comforting space, upper floor restrooms, storage space, handicapped accessibility and repairs to the worship space.

Parish has experienced steady growth

But it takes more than a renovated building to make a church. Since Fr. Stoffel arrived, membership, especially among younger families, has grown.

“Fr. Rick is a great priest who has led our parish since 2002,” said Colleen Waech, communications associate for St. Peter Parish. “We have grown steadily in the past few years with many young families joining us. We have a vibrant community and great Christian formation programs. In recent years, I believe that having our parish in the local media more often has reminded fallen away Catholics that the church is alive.”

Rogers agreed, and added that in addition to membership growing under Fr. Stoffel’s leadership, the number of participants in the parish has also increased to 1,325 families.

“As Fr. Rick says, ‘It’s the best Catholic Church in Slinger.’ We are a vibrant faith community dedicated to making disciples and bringing the Good News to our neighbors,” said Rogers. “While we have the same concerns of all parishes, we seek to increase not only in numbers, but in terms of Catholic identity and mission.”

When Fr. Stoffel became pastor, the parish had just completed and paid off a significant amount for building repair and redecorating.

“This also saw the addition of a two-story entry wing which includes an elevator,” said Fr. Stoffel. “Despite these fine efforts, many saw our church continue to be overcrowded more frequently than just major holy days. Meeting spaces for ministerial and formation efforts, as well as storage, were growing more inadequate.”

Despite differing opinions on whether to build or to preserve the historic site, they continued to fundraise for the day something needed to be done. After Vision XXI, the search for space became an urgent endeavor.

Listening sessions determined plans

“When we discovered that we could preserve the beauty of our existing church while expanding on our own site with a new rectory and increased parking, we held many parish listening sessions to find what our parishioners wanted to do,” Fr. Stoffel said, explaining he was in favor of a modest expansion on the north side of the church that would create more seating, an enlarged church hall and improved kitchen.

Parishioners at St. Peter Parish, Slinger, got a preview of the changes taking place at their parish during a recent tour. (Submitted photo by Ken Zautcke)

Parishioners at St. Peter Parish, Slinger, got a preview of the changes taking place at their parish during a recent tour. (Submitted photo by Ken Zautcke)

“When the congregation met, it became clear there was much interest in doing more, so that future needs would be well met for a long time to come,” he said of the plan which will nearly double seating from 400 to 740, with an overflow seating capacity of 900-plus.

“It will supply much needed gathering space of hospitality and welcome, provide for easier access and improve on available meeting and storage spaces. I found the congregation was thinking bigger than I had imagined – they are so excited,” said Fr. Stoffel.

It was expected each phase of the project would be completed independently, but due to parishioner enthusiasm, all three phases are being completed at once.

“Right now, the foundation and main structure is done,” said Rogers. “Much of the entrances and brickwork needs to be completed, along with windows and all the interior work like plumbing, electrical, drywall, fire suppression system and kitchen work needs to be done. We also have the statue and pew restoration work being done now.”

Three years ago, The James Company helped the parish develop its capital campaign. Members pledged $1.8 million over three years and a larger than expected amount has come in ahead of schedule, so the loan for the remaining amount will not seem heavy or burdensome explained Fr. Stoffel.

“People are excited also to contribute items not included as a part of the renovation,” he said. “All of our statues are being refurbished and parishioners have paid for this up front. We are planning stained glass windows including the reuse of those that have been in the church, along with some new ones to witness to the faith of our patron, St. Peter. Some of these are already pledged for, no matter the cost.”

Renovations to respect original look

According to Waech, the expansion of the physical gathering space of the church and remodeling of the main level will be respectful of the original look of the church.

Noting that parishioner Dave Wolbrink is restoring the altar to its original form, she said, “All of these efforts will allow parishioners to invite more friends and families to our worship space, especially during sacramental celebrations.”

The parish is working with Catalyst Construction in Milwaukee and John Holz,, parishioner and architect with Plunkett/Raysich Architects. Though the work is behind schedule due to some materials procurement issues, it is far enough along that parishioners had a tour of the project recently.

“They were awed by the size of the new church and some gave good suggestions to help showcase the (current) work or past work, such as observation views of the original fieldstone foundation, which is as sound as ever,” said Rogers. “Our goal throughout this project is to address the needs of the parish without changing the warmth, charm and traditional appearance of our church and without disturbing our fine 1992 addition.”

While the renovation addresses present needs, Fr. Stoffel said it has taken into account they are in a part of the archdiocese significant growth.

“Our ancestors built the core of our present church in 1892, seating 400-plus people and the congregation was barely 150 families. Church was not always full, but they had given careful thought to the future and we are trying to do the same,” he explained. “One of the drawbacks of our 1892/1992 church was small entryways that did not make it easy or comfortable for people to stay after church for socializing and small group gatherings in which discipleship is nurtured and flourishes.”

Coffee shop aims tobuild community

To meet those needs a coffee bar will be added to encourage parishioners to feel at ease in remaining after Mass.

The coffee shop will be run by parishioner and director of religious education and youth minister, Eileen Belongea, who already hosts a weekly Coffee & Catholic Answers on Sunday mornings.

“Eileen helps operate a coffee shop called BREWERS TWO in Pewaukee, and her scones and specialty coffees are already well appreciated by many, myself included,” said Fr. Stoffel.

Parishioners are kept up-to-date with a weekly 10-15-minute video titled, “Upon This Rock,” posted on the parish website, sent in an email and posted on the parish Facebook page. The video is produced by Ken and Rich Zautcke, twin brothers and parishioners.

“Not only are they keeping a diligent record of what is being done and how it is being done, but they are keeping enthusiasm high,” said Fr. Stoffel.

Fr. Stoffel explained the renovations will assist the parish mission in many ways, such as celebrating Mass and the sacraments with increased and more comfortable space, having attractive amenities, such as gracious gathering space, upstairs restrooms, bride’s room and grieving family room, parent comforting areas and more.

Music ministries to be enhanced

“Our music ministries will also be enhanced with additional space to help us pray in song as we are a lively, singing parish,” he said. “We will also be able, on occasion and as may be needed, such as confirmation 2017, to gather as cluster parishes under one roof to celebrate something together.”

Fr. Stoffel is pleased with the volunteer efforts for the long-range planning, capital campaign and construction committees, and for those who have given their time, talent and treasure for the projects.

“I am also grateful for all of those who are faithfully praying for its successful completion,” he said. “It will be very much their church, God’s church and a thing of beauty to house growth in holiness and love.”