St. Peter breaks ground on parish center

COLUMBIA — A new chapter in the history of St. Peter Church began the morning of April 29 as parishioners attended a groundbreaking ceremony for their new parish life center.

The new building will replace the outdated Murphy Hall, which has been demolished, and is being funded through $2.8 million raised in 2006 by “Living Our Faith, Building Our Future,” the parish’s capital campaign.

Designed by the Columbia-based Boudreaux Group, the parish life center will hold staff offices, the sacristy, nursery, and a large formal gathering space for wedding receptions and other parish activities. Tyler Construction of Columbia is contractor for the project.

Msgr. Leigh Lehocky, pastor of St. Peter, led the groundbreaking ceremony, which included prayers, Scripture readings and hymns of thanksgiving.

“Grant the undertaking we begin today may progress through its successful completion,” he prayed. “…God continues to bless our parish in so many forms and ways. This is something we will watch become a reality. Thank you to all those whose time, talent and treasure has made this possible.” The church’s bells rang at the beginning and end of the groundbreaking ceremony.

The new building will stand at the corner of Assembly and Park streets and measure about 2,800 square feet, said Greg Marcy, a Boudreaux Group architect who has worked on the project since its early stages.

He said the building will include a kitchen and cafeteria space for St. Peter School, and they have plans to include special partitions that can be used to divide the large, formal gathering space into three smaller areas.

Construction has already started, with crews working to fill in the hole left behind by Murphy Hall. The target date for completion is April 2008.

The Boudreaux Group and Tyler Construction also worked on the recent renovation of the historic church’s sanctuary.

Parish life coordinator Emily Hero, who worked extensively on the capital campaign project, said the ceremony was the culmination of more than a year of meetings and planning, which included input from parishioners on what the new parish life center should include. More funds for the project are still needed, and work on the capital campaign will continue, she said.

Sunday’s ceremony wasn’t the only celebration at St. Peter. On April 28, hundreds of people attended “Groundbreaking Celebration Under the Big Tent,” an all-day festival that featured tours of the church’s historic cemetery, a silent auction, food, live entertainment and games for children. Admission to the event was free, with visitors encouraged to make a donation to the church to help fund the building project and other activities.

The tours were part of a larger event, “Holy History,” going on in Columbia over the weekend, which highlighted many of the city’s historic downtown churches.

Hero noted that during the festival, parish volunteers served more than 1,000 hamburgers to visitors, who also sampled international dishes prepared by St. Peter parishioners.