By Lynda Jensen
WAVERLY, MN In 1884, the cornerstone of the Statue of Liberty was laid in New York Harbor and Mark Twain wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Also during that year, a fledgling congregation would begin in Waverly that would eventually become the Church of St. Mary; a flourishing Catholic community of today.
Today, St. Mary’s is a thriving congregation of more than 800 families that is finishing a major new addition project, which started in 2004.
The new addition encompasses a total square footage of about 25,000, and is in its final stages; which represents a substantial addition; along with a well-used community room called the Great Hall.
However, Father Timothy Cloutier would be the first to correct anyone that the congregation isn’t about buildings, but about families and the community.
“It’s parishioner-driven,” Cloutier said, noting that the people in the church, and not any structure, is the important part of the congregation.
The energy of the congregation can certainly be felt in the community of Waverly, as shown by the spontaneous participation and activity with the building project.
“From the very beginning, the parish has stepped up to offer help; from inside and outside the church,” Cloutier said.
The building project will move into a Phase II soon, with Phase I coming to a close.
For Phase I, the main level is, for the most part, done complete with a foyer, Great Hall, office space and classrooms.
The Great Hall is where coronation takes place for Waverly Daze, along with several other community events, such as candidate forums, the Citizens State Bank anniversary event, and many other activities.
It also serves as a reception area for weddings and funerals, with seating for 332 in the Great Hall, and 150 in the foyer.
In fact, the size of the new addition is a testimony to the growth of the church, since the project was built bigger than what was needed by the parish itself; meant for a greater use by the community.
“We built it larger than what was needed as a parish, to reach out to the community,” Cloutier said.
Many other events take place there, such as the bloodmobile, athletic banquets, senior activities and much more. The parish also conducts baptisms, weddings, and funerals, as well.
In the fall, a special craft fair will be conducted at the end of October that is expected to feature artworks from the Holy Land. This will help artists from the Holy Land who have been affected by violence, with a downturn in tourism there.
The hall is available for rent by non-parishioners, as well. Those interested may call the parish office at (763) 658-4319.
There is also a foyer located in the entry way, which is well-used, despite its existence being left out of the original plans.
The first draft of plans originally called for two links to the church, instead of the existing one. However, in order to adhere to government stipulations, this idea would require retro-fitting of the church for sprinkler heads that would have cost $120,000. So, the twin links to the church were abandoned.
Cloutier then decided to fan out what is now the existing foyer and go with a single link to the church. This is now the area used for coffee fellowship, as well as such things as wake services. There is some interior work that needs to be finished before the church moves on to its next phase.
For Phase II, plans are to finish the lower level, which is designed for 16 classrooms and a youth center. The classrooms may end up being larger or fewer, depending on if the plans change.
All of this work is clipping along at a fast pace, and ahead of schedule.
This vigorous growth is also reflective of the congregation inside the church, commented secretary Mary Pettit.
In years past, she received phone calls from people who were interested in scheduling an event such as a baptism or wedding, which led to church membership.
However, more recently, she has started to take calls from people who are simply interested in joining, she said.
“For the past three or four years, young couples are moving into the area, and calling to simply register. That is so encouraging,” she added.
This growth can certainly be traced in part to the leadership of Cloutier, who has served at St. Mary’s for six years now, with the building project plans being initiated the year after he arrived in 2003.
However, he downplays his importance on the congregation’s growth, saying that he is merely a guiding factor.
“I can’t take the credit for the energy,” Cloutier said. “The people make the parish, and that’s what it is. People just feel welcome,” he said. “It’s the people and not me.”
Whatever the cause, the congregation seems to be prepared for the future. “St. Mary’s is a growing faith community. Faith is a living force. However, it also depends on community outreach.”
“We continue to do the work that God has put us here to do,” he added.