Church members and others attending a meeting about the future of St. Patrick Catholic School on Wednesday night were excited and upbeat.
Ideas suggested in the brainstorming session included a Fourth Ward community center, a place for adult education and child care, and partnerships with a variety of community organizations.
The church announced last month that the school will close at the end of the school year.
Longtime parishioner Kim Ehrhardt said he and the Rev. Tim Renz would work on the ideas and present a recommendation to the church council in March.
Ehrhardt said three decisions already have been made: The church will continue to own and operate the building; it will be used for religious education, including adult education; and whatever happens, the building must generate income for the church.
About 35 people attended the meeting in the 98-year-old building, and several noted its central location in the Fourth Ward and the city.
Ray Jewell of the newly formed Fourth Ward Community Center Task Force said his group is interested in having a space that could host after-school programs and services for adults, such as classes in job-search skills.
Mark Anderson of Faith Works—formerly Love Inc., a Protestant organization dedicated to helping the underprivileged—said he works with other churches to provide services and could do the same at St. Pat’s.
Several people talked about offering outreach services to Spanish speakers.
Several church members asked that the school be used for after-funeral dinners, something that was done there years ago. The building has a kitchen. One man asked that the building be used to feed the needy.
One member said the church must be cautious that those who use the building don’t do things to contradict Catholic principles.
“Not that we hate anybody. Works of mercy are important,” she said, but what if someone wanted to perform a gay marriage in the building? she asked.
Renz said care must be taken that the building not allow teachings that contradict Catholic doctrine.
Several people suggested sports leagues might be willing to rent the gym.
One church member said if the heat isn’t kept on, the gym floor will buckle.
“We’re not going to let it go to pot,” Renz replied. “This will not be a marketable place if we don’t take care of it.”
Sara Stinski of the Boys & Girls Club of Janesville said her organization is rapidly outgrowing its space in the nearby YMCA building. She wasn’t sure the school would be the right fit, but “this is our neighborhood,” she said.
Kathryn Scott of SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville attended and seemed open to suggestions that the hospital’s health and exercise classes could be held at St. Pat’s.
Kay Deupree of the Fourth Ward Neighborhood Action Team suggested part of the building be renovated to provide affordable housing.
Neil Deupree of the same organization said the neighborhood’s diversity should be celebrated.
“I think the Holy Spirit will show us the way,” Deupree added.
“I hope so,” Renz responded.
“I think we have a rare opportunity we need to seize,” Ehrhardt said.
Ehrhardt said after the meeting that the Janesville School District is interested in using the building, and although nothing is certain, discussions are ongoing.