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St. Mary constructs family life center

Walter Maier constructs barricades inside of St. Mary Basilica’s soon-to-be family center.

NATCHEZ — Members and leaders at St. Mary Basilica are thinking ahead, the Rev. David O’Connor said.

The church, located on South Union Street, is undergoing a $2.2 million addition and renovation project to construct a Family Life Center, he said.

Since the site work has been completed, O’Connor said, workers have begun to lay the foundation for what will be the center for the ever-growing youth population.

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Wilmar Construction’s Elijah Brown paints barricades inside of St. Mary Basilica’s soon-to-be family center Thursday afternoon on Main Street in downtown Natchez.

St. Mary presently has three active youth groups: one for grades nine-12, one for six-eight and one for three-five.

“We’re trying to broaden our programs so that we will be able to use our space most effectively when it becomes available,” O’Connor said.

The target date for completion is July 1, he said, but the congregation is hopeful it might be done sooner — possibly spring 2012.

So far, he said, the funding has come in the form of gifts from congregation members, though St. Mary continues to seek funds through Catholic funding agencies.

“We’re awaiting some responses, in that regard,” O’Connor said.

In addition to the youth center, the Family Life Center will also include an assembly area that would seat 350-400 people and a couple of meeting zones, as well as a nursery space that is especially for little people.

A commercial-style kitchen with stainless steel appliances was completed in the renovation phase of the project, which has already finished, he said, as the project began in 2006 with a number of task forces.

“The idea is to resume Wednesday night dinners for members and to have other study programs for various spiritual and human growth programs, as well,” O’Connor said. “The decision was made that, because we owned the property already, it made more sense to develop a plan for it than to purchase new buildings in the vicinity of the church.”

O’Connor said the task forces also kept the community in mind when making decisions about construction crews.

“We were very interested in giving preference to local contractors if they were competitive in price and if they were using local subcontractors,” he said.

Wilmar Construction Co. of Vidalia is doing the work.

“We feel that’s a way to help out local people and companies and provide to local companies,” he said.

Due to the size of the building and the amenities it would be equipped with, like showers, for example, O’Connor said he imagines it could be used in a time of crisis, such as a hurricane or ice storm, if the need were to arise.

St. Mary service times are Saturdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 10 a.m.