New building brings joy to Our Lady of the Hills parishioners

COLUMBIA — On the eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of the Hills Church in Columbia dedicated an 18,300-square-foot Family Life Center, its first new construction since 1975. Additions to the existing church, which include a 500-square-foot sanctuary and 800-square-foot cry room, were also dedicated by Bishop Robert J. Baker, who came for the occasion.

“The landscape has changed so much around here that I don’t know where I am … and I am pleased,” said Father Anthony Droze, who in his homily reminded everyone that just as improvements in the physical landscape of the church can be a positive sign of growth, so can improvements in one’s spiritual landscape.

After Mass Bishop Baker blessed the path to the new building with holy water and the congregation followed, singing hymns. When everyone was assembled in the large gathering space/gymnasium, John Quinn, chairman of the building/fund-raising committee, recognized the many people who helped the $1 million project come together.

“Every time I needed something to happen — a resource, a solution to a problem — someone came through the door to answer that need. A stranger would walk in and say, ‘Can I help?’ and they would have the exact skill we needed,” recalled Quinn, who felt “God really wanted this building project to happen.”

Like all worthwhile endeavors, the completion of the building was a gratifying journey down a bumpy road with many false starts, according to Father Robert Fix, the previous pastor of Our Lady of the Hills, who began the ground work for the building 10 years ago and acquired the land for it. He retired before its completion, and Father Droze kept the project moving forward with the help of people like Quinn.

“In my Christmas card to John, I said he was Our Lady of the Hills’ MVP, ‘Most Valuable Parishioner,’” said Father Fix, recalling Quinn’s assistance while he was pastor.

Many other parishioners joined in the effort. For example, some of the subcontractors were parishioners who did the brickwork, glass work, cleaning, and painting at a deep discount.

The building’s initial design had gone through several modifications. One of the changes important to Droze was creating an inconspicuous two-story building that would not overshadow the church.

The new facility includes an atrium with kitchenette, conference room/ library, parish hall, activity center, commercial kitchen and other support facilities. It has been designed for easy expansion for the next phase of building, which includes 14,000 square feet of classrooms and meeting rooms.

“When I walked into the building I just began to cry, but it was tears of joy,” said Betty Werner, a “charter member” of the parish.

After the parishioners were recognized, Father Droze thanked the bishop for his patience and support. He presented the bishop with the 100,000th rosary made by the parish rosary group. Bishop Baker said that he would pray the first rosary with it for the Our Lady of the Hills Church.