Fort Smith church raising $2.5 million for security

FORT SMITH — During the Church’s Eucharistic Revival, Immaculate Conception Church in Fort Smith is raising funds to relocate its Blessed Sacrament to the back altar.

The parish is launching its $2.5 million campaign on the feast of Corpus Christi June 1-2. It also will mark the church’s 125th anniversary. The campaign will also fund improvements in the church, elementary school, preschool and rectory.

Pastor Father John Antony previewed the capital campaign in his Easter homily. 

“Every detail in this church is designed to evoke faith, even the direction you are all seated, facing the east, which is where the word ‘Easter’ comes from,” he said. “We are an Easter people because every time we come to church we face east, to behold the rising Son, the resurrected Christ. The east, the sun, everything is designed to help us believe without seeing and pass the test of faith.”

A new, larger back altar will be built to accommodate the tabernacle and candles, with an additional step added to make the Blessed Sacrament visible to the congregation. The statue of the Sacred Heart will be moved and a new statue of St. Patrick, representing Immaculate Conception’s Irish heritage, will be purchased.

A reception will be held in Galvin Hall after all weekend Masses on the launch date, featuring historic exhibits. Later in the afternoon, Immaculate Conception will join St. Boniface and Christ the King churches in their annual Corpus Christi procession.

Renovations will begin this summer, starting with the two schools. 

“We will be adding a classroom to our preschool building so that we can accommodate an additional 18-month-old class,” Father Antony said. “We will be replacing the roof and cooling tower on the elementary school building and adding a secure vestibule. The security camera at the door only shows faces, but by adding an enclosed vestibule — think of it like an airlock — we will be able to see what the visitor is wearing and what (s)he may be carrying. The covered walkway will keep children sheltered while waiting for afternoon pickups.”

The preschool classroom will be ready by the first day of school, and Immaculate Conception is taking registrations for a second 18-month-old class.

The rectory has crumbling mortar around the chimney and in the basement, and Apolo, Father Antony’s dog, needs some room to run. The campaign will fund the repairs, new landscaping, expanding the yard, fencing and two covered parking spaces.

The amount to be raised has been reduced from $3 million to $2.5 million because the church was unable to complete the proposed solar energy project. 

“We initially thought we could put solar panels on the roofs of Galvin Hall and the gymnasium but providing enough energy for our entire campus would require leasing a four-acre field. The rebate program, which would allow us to sell unused energy to OGE (Oklahoma Gas and Electric), is undergoing major changes in September, which would result in a fluctuating rebate rather than the existing almost 1 to 1 ratio,” Father Antony said. “In order to be grandfathered in at the present rate, we need signed contracts, and OGE is not interested in speeding up the process. It almost makes it not worth it because we would be selling our energy to OGE for nowhere near a 1 to 1 ratio.”

Immaculate Conception is committed to reducing energy use in other ways, replacing school toilets with low flow, self-flushing units and replacing appliances and windows with energy-efficient models when needed. Father Antony said he hopes the projects will come in under budget but is conscious of inflation.

The parish has about 2,000 families, and an average pledge of $1,250 per family, payable over three years, would finance all the needed improvements.

Maryanne Meyerriecks

Maryanne Meyerriecks joined Arkansas Catholic in 2006 as the River Valley correspondent. She is a member of Christ the King Church in Fort Smith, a Benedictine oblate and volunteer at St. Scholastica Monastery.

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