Parish tackles 'Catholic Extreme Makeover' on priest's home
Parishioners at Christ the King Church in Little Rock had read about Father "Udo" Ogbuji's paralysis following a car wreck in January and were praying for the priest's recovery.
So when pastor Msgr. Francis I. Malone challenged his members to renovate a house in less than two weeks for the former Searcy pastor, they immediately jumped to work.
"They really stepped up with incredible donations," said Sandy DeCoursey, the parish life/outreach director who oversaw the renovation in March of the parish-owned two-story home that was vacant across the street. "The Holy Spirit is guiding this. The Holy Spirit is the project manager."
Before Father Ogbuji was released from Baptist Rehabilitation Institute March 13, Msgr. J. Gaston Hebert, diocesan administrator, and Msgr. Malone agreed that the priest needed a home close to his therapists and doctors while at the same time being able to put his priestly vocation to work.
The parish house, however, needed major renovations to accommodate a person in a motorized wheelchair as well as a fresh coat of paint and furnishings.
When Msgr. Malone announced his challenge from the pulpit Feb. 24-25, he asked for laborers and people willing to donate items.
Within a week, the plan was taking shape. Families and parish groups adopted each room in the house, including a chapel and three bedrooms for caretakers and friends who need to stay overnight.
Jim Barre, a parishioner and retired homebuilder, coordinated several construction projects on the inside and outside of the house. The den on the first floor was transformed into the priest's bedroom and needed wider doorways.
"That's what you do. You offer your talents," Barre said about his volunteer hours.
Other major projects included converting the mudroom into a handicap-accessible bathroom with a "drive-in shower." An asphalt driveway was paved from the backyard to loop around to the road.
"I dubbed it our Catholic Extreme Makeover," DeCoursey said. "That's what it was: getting a handicap-accessible house ready in nine days."
Overall, 400 parishioners volunteered to renovate the home and donate items and money for the project. "The kitchen was stocked even down to the toothpicks," DeCoursey said. "We (the parish) spent very little money getting the house renovated."
Mike and Pam Halter adopted the guest caretaker's suite on the first floor. Pam Halter collected a few friends and a donated twin bed, chair and dresser, and transformed the bedroom and the adjacent bathroom with shades of white and blue.
"I told Sandy I would help and she asked if I would adopt a room and I said yes, so she gave me two (rooms)," Pam Halter said with a laugh.
Halter and her friend, Mary Jo Lewno, said Msgr. Malone's presentation at Mass was influential in their decision to donate money and time to the cause.
"I think Father Udo will be a blessing to the church," Halter said.
"I think it helps that it was Lent," Lewno said. "I think people really wanted to give."
Downstairs, the master bedroom, living room and dining room were painted in taupes and browns and featured high-end furniture and accessories. Upstairs, there are two bedrooms and an entertainment room.
Volunteers have also signed up for regular housekeeping, grocery shopping and meal preparation. Others have donated money to fund the priest's care and personal needs. Students at the parish school collected coins during one week in March and gave $4,922.10 to the fund.
On March 7, Msgr. Malone toured the progress made over the past week. He said Christ the King was the perfect place for Father Ogbuji to continue his ministry.
"We didn't want to place him in residential nursing care. It would pretty much eliminate the opportunity for pastoral ministry," Msgr. Malone said. "We are saving someone's priesthood."
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