St. Bartholomew Church in Little Rock is one step closer to breaking ground on a parish hall thanks to a $118,465 boost from One Church.
The parish, one of just three historically Black Catholic churches in Arkansas, was chosen in the fall 2020 to be the third church to benefit from One Church, a diocean initiative coordinated by Catholic Charities of Arkansas.
One Church, which began in 2018, is meant to give Arkansans a chance to donate to the chosen mission or rural parish for 12 months to give the parish community a one-time financial boost. The previous beneficiaries were St. Luke Church in Warren and Holy Spirit Church in Hamburg.
St. Bartholomew pastor Father Leon Ngandu, SVD, said between One Church and parishioner pledges and donations, the church has about $800,000 set aside for a new parish hall.
“For me it was a blessing. It was a miracle, a blessing and I was very happy that St. Bartholomew was chosen,” Father Ngandu said of One Church.
Currently, parish religious education classes meet across the street in two rooms of its former high school building, which closed in 1964. The remaining space is loaned to Helping Hand of Greater Little Rock, the city’s largest food pantry. The church, which opened in 1903, has never had a parish hall. St. Bartholomew has about 100 families.
“That (school) building has been in place since around the late 1940s, so it’s pushing 70-plus years old,” said lifelong parishioner Phillip Gillam, who is board president for Helping Hand. “It wasn’t designed to be a hall. It was designed to be a series of classrooms. So just having the true functionality of a hall will be a very positive step for the parish.”
The hall will also be a benefit for St. Augustine Church in North Little Rock, another of the three Black parishes in the state, where Ngandu is also pastor.
“The two parishes do not have a parish hall. As a pastor, it's a concern for me, because I have to serve my people. Like in August, here we have the parish feast day. We do not have anywhere to go. Usually we just meet outside,” he said.
The building committee had planned on a 5,040-square-foot building that would seat 150, with classroom, office and kitchen space. However, Father Ngandu said the lowest bid from the contractors they reached out to with the design was $1.2 million last fall. They sent out bids again in July, with a redesigned plan to keep the cost at $800,000.
“My goal was to have a facility where the youth can attend religious education first, and other programs of course. So, we are going to see how we can make it possible because our youth do not … have a facility for their religious education,” Father Ngandu. “My priority is catechesis first.”
Nestled within the neighborhood on Marshall Street down from Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the parish hopes a hall will allow for more outreach. Father Ngandu said, “All the Black community around here, we want to serve them.”
Gillam said they’d like to do programs for the local community around St. Bartholomew and the Central High district.
“For example, one of the things we've talked about is maybe having some adult education classes. Things like that where we can reach out to the community at large to see what we can do to kind of help whatever the needs are -- literacy, or anything else that might come to our attention,” Gillam said.
The largest donor was Christ the King Church in Little Rock, which gave $25,000 to One Church, Gillam said. A collection was taken up by the parish during Advent.
“There’s groups out in the Catholic community that are willing and able to get involved in these kinds of efforts so it becomes more than just the financial aspect of it,” Gillam said, explaining that CTK parishioners came to meet with them. “The financial aspect of it is a blessing because that’s money we would not have otherwise been able to raise on our own.”
Father Ngandu hopes St. Bartholomew can break ground on the new parish hall by the end of the year. It will be built on the vacant lot next to the church office and rectory.
“We pray for them. We are so blessed. I will thank them, and more than that, I keep them in my prayers,” Father Ngandu said of all those who donated to One Church this year. “When we will break the ground, I will consecrate the Mass for all our benefactors, for those who donated, I will offer Mass for them.”
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