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August 31, 2014 Issue

Darla Cooke was one of dozens of parishioners who pressed hands into the concrete sidewalk that runs between the new parking lot and the gym/parish center at St. Mary, Westville, on Aug. 23.

The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems (More photos from this event will be posted to The Catholic Post's page on Facebook.)

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Hands in concrete make mark on Westville parish history

WESTVILLE -- Not many things are lasting enough to be set in stone, but members of St. Mary Parish here proved that love for their faith community was the exception to the rule last weekend.

Among recent improvements to the parish campus in this cozy Vermilion County village are a new parking lot and a new roof and air conditioning for the gym/parish center, with a new sidewalk running between the two.

Father Timothy Sauppé, pastor, invited parishioners to celebrate this new beginning by placing their handprints and names in the concrete sidewalk before it hardened.

“We’re hoping to build unity and a concrete purpose for the future,” he told The Catholic Post while people waited for just the right moment to make their mark on St. Mary’s history. “We’re here to stay.”

Longtime parishioner Jackie Shadden was more than happy to get her hands dirty during the event, which included balloons being set aloft by the youngest parishioners.

“This is history in the making,” she said. “We’ve gone from a very large parish to a smaller parish, like many parishes are experiencing. We lost our school, but we haven’t lost our spirit.”

St. Mary School closed in 2012 and was torn down, but the gym was saved and continues to be used for funeral dinners, the Christmas bazaar, appreciation dinners, meetings and religious education classes.

Shari McMasters, who served as the school secretary for 25 years and saw her three sons graduate, said having the gym/parish center gives them a way to remember all the good that had happened there and look to the future.

“If it was all gone then all the memories would be wiped out,” she explained. “They’re making this building nice, even though we lost our school. The joyful part is everybody getting together. Father is trying so hard to pull everybody into our little family.”

Family connections can also be found in the sidewalk, where not only parents and children, but grandparents, aunts and uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins knelt next to each other to press their hands into the concrete and add their names. Making sure their families were side by side were Darla Cooke and Karen Scott, and her daughter Lauren.

Cooke and Scott’s mother were sisters who married brothers. They sent eight double cousins to St. Mary School.

“Sometimes the teachers would call the wrong parents because they all looked alike,” Cooke said with a laugh.

“We’re active members here at the parish and I wanted, in years to come, for people to know we belonged here and we love this parish,” Scott said.

“I think this is wonderful. I think it’s a great idea,” Cooke said. “Our gym looks beautiful -- and our parking lot, which we needed badly. We’ve been very fortunate. Very fortunate.”

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