By Dan Russo
MAQUOKETA — Students returning from summer break this year at Sacred Heart School in Maquoketa weren’t battling the heat in their classrooms as they tried to get their minds focused on math, reading and other subjects.
This was thanks to a major renovation that included the installation of an air conditioning system, new energy efficient windows, a new heating system and a roof replacement. The first large-scale improvement project of its kind since the school was built in the 1960s has benefited both students and staff.
“(The students) had it especially tough the first few weeks of school when it is in the 80s and 90s,” said Principal Jenny Litterer. “I feel like we gain a whole two extra weeks of school, because when they’re here, they’re not sweating and distracted (by the heat).”
Sacred Heart School’s chief administrator and many of the students joined the entire parish community at a Mass and blessing held Nov. 30. Archbishop Michael Jackels and Pastor Donald Hertges concelebrated the liturgy, which fell on the feast day of St. Andrew. In his homily, the archbishop reflected that, “We can’t love God unless we know God.”
He urged students and parents to get to know God, and then invite others, citing St. Andrew, who brought St. Peter to Jesus, as a good example.
“It’s a happy coincidence that we’re celebrating this on the feast of St. Andrew and afterwards blessing the improvements of the school,” Archbishop Jackels said. “The school is one way in which the parish does what St. Andrew did. This is part of the parish mission.”
The initial stages of the project began about a year and a half ago with the target of raising $750,000, according to Father Hertges. The capital campaign, which will last for five years, was able to surpass its goals with pledges from supporters returned by June 20. About $495,000 was used for the latest improvements, with construction completed between May and August. The rest of the funds will be set aside for future potential needs, such as replacing the church steps and roof and improvements to the rectory.
“I’m very happy and grateful,” said Father Hertges. “It’s a wonderful project. As a pastor, you’re not really sure how people are going to react to a proposal like this. Thankfully, the reaction was positive.”
The fundraising effort and construction, a portion of which was done with volunteer labor, helped bring the community closer together. This unity was evident at the liturgy, where students sang with adults in the choir, young and old alike participated as lectors and eucharistic ministers, and local Knights of Columbus from Maquoketa, La Motte, Preston and other areas led the procession into and out of Mass.
Afterward, the archbishop led a blessing in the school gym and traveled through the halls, offices and classrooms sprinkling holy water. He blessed the new heating system as well, stopping to marvel at the large size of the original boiler it replaced, which had been in service since the 1960s.
Many of the school’s 102 students joined adults for a reception and meal in the gym after the ceremonies.
“I think it’s good,” said student Braedon Tranel, 10, of the project.
Brad Gehl, whose 11-year-old daughter attends the school, said he was happy to see the “community come together,” and was impressed by how everything turned out, especially the roof, which will no longer need leaks patched.
“There were buckets in one of the rooms, so the roof definitely needed it,” he said.
Richard and Renee Gerardy, a couple who helped serve the meal at the reception, paused a moment to remark on the significance of the day.
“It’s a big thing for our parish,” said Renee Gerardy. “Everybody is glad it’s done.”
Archbishop Michael Jackels (center) and Father Donald Hertges, pastor of the parish, bless Sacred Heart School with holy water Nov. 30. (Photo by Dan Russo/The Witness)