St. John’s Pushes On With New Church Plans
Patricia Heulseman, Harrison Press Staff Writer
It has been just about a year since parishioners at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Harrison, voted to rebuild their church at a new site at Carolina Trace Road and New Haven Road. Since then, a committee was formed and a master-plan created detailing the overall vision of the grounds.
In the spring of 2013, the vote was cast and the decision to move made formal. As parishioners increased, it became clear the current church, which comfortably seats about 375 people, couldn’t accommodate the worshipers. The schedule now provides six Mass times between Saturday evening and Sunday. This situation is only made possible because the pastor, Fr. Jeff Kemper, is assisted by two retired priests. But when those two are no longer able to say Mass, it’s likely that Fr. Kemper will be on his own. The most reasonable solution was to expand the church so more parishioners could attend the same Mass and reduce the schedule to about three or four per weekend.
Tom Gruber was asked to chair the St. John’s Future Home Committee devoted to making the project a reality. The committee has about nine members, including Fr. Kemper and business manager Paul Roell. There were many priorities the board considered when designing the future campus that will be built on 26 acres of what is today a cornfield or bean field. “The land was purchased in 2003 with the idea that as our parish grew, we would need more land and a larger facility,” said Gruber, “We’re now at the point where conditions dictate that we need to move in that direction.”
The committee consulted the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, which continues to support the effort and has given much sound advice, said Gruber. The committee also contacted architect group Entheos, Indianapolis, that works solely on churches and church like structures. Under its guidance, the committee developed a master plan presented to the parish at a town hall meeting. The committee worked on the master plan from January to July.
“It seems to have been very well received by the parishioners at large,” said Gruber, adding the new church will maintain a traditional style. “What we’ve heard over and over again from our parishioners is we want you to build a church that looks like a church,” said Gruber.
Since 1852, St. John the Baptist has been in Harrison, but the current church is the third building in the parish’s history. To link the past with the present, remnants of the current and former two buildings will be incorporated into the new church. The church’s stained glass windows will be installed at the new location. A crucifix from the second building and relics from the original edifice also will be at the newest church.
The cost to build the church is about $5 million, and it’s just the first phase of the plan to bring the church, the school, and the administrative buildings to one campus. Best case scenario, the church will be open by 2016, and Gruber said it could take up to 25 years for the entire project to be completed.
In creating the master plan, the Future Home Committee interviewed all the departments that would be affected by the move: the principal, teachers, administrators, music ministry, youth ministry, athletic group, and of course, the pastor and parish administration. Among those aspects necessary at the new site is more space for parishioners to attend Mass at one time. “We designed a church that will initially seat 800 people,” said Gruber. “It can be built to expand to seat 1200.” Larger seating space will allow the six Mass schedule to be reduced to three or four Masses per weekend.
The next big, and Gruber emphasizes, most difficult task, is to raise the money. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati will continue to advise St. John’s, and the committee plans to hire a consultant to help strategize. “The rest of it is kind of easy once you get the money,” said Gruber.
(Corrections were made to the original article. Tom Grober was changed to Tom Gruber, expanded seat capacity should be 1200 instead of 12,000)