COLUMBIA CITY — A dream that has been in the making for a decade has now come to fruition. St. Paul of the Cross Parish in Columbia City has completed construction on the long awaited Deacon Joseph Zickgraf Community Center. Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades celebrated Mass and officiated at a blessing ceremony for the center on Sunday, Oct. 19.
The original building plans began with former St. Paul of the Cross Pastor Father Larry Kramer in 2004. The $1.1 million funding cost for the construction of the center was raised over the past decade with the Legacy of Faith and second collections taken at the church. Groundbreaking was held on Oct. 19, 2013, the vigil of the feast of St. Paul of the Cross.
The Deacon Joseph Zickgraf Community Center is located just north of the church and offers a kitchen and dining area that will seat 300 people, and a multipurpose gathering space that doubles as a modern gymnasium. The center also provides room for the food pantry and St. Vincent de Paul Society and has the capacity for teleconferencing.
In his homily at the Mass, Bishop Rhoades congratulated the congregation, including six of Deacon Zickgraf’s children, on the completion of the project and thanked them for their generosity, “Thank you for your generous donations to the parish that made this dream become a reality. I know this was a dream of your former pastor, Father Larry Kramer, so let us remember Father Larry in our prayers today.”
Bishop Rhoades reminded parishioners that the community center was to be named in memory of Deacon Joseph Zickgraf, “So let us also remember Deacon Joe and also his wife Judy in our prayers today. I didn’t know Deacon Joe since he died before I became bishop here, but many have told me about his wonderful diaconal ministry.”
Bishop Rhoades spoke of a letter that Bishop (John M.) D’Arcy wrote to Deacon Joe’s wife Judy after Joe’s death in which he wrote: “What can I say about Joe and you? His service at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, in Huntington and in Columbia City, was outstanding. He brought honor to the Office of Deacon and to the diocese. He loved serving on the Board of Catholic Charities. He was a joy to be around and, of course, a great public servant as mayor of Columbia City. None of this could have been done without you, Judy, because you were his support and his strength.”
“So, to the children of Joe and Judy, how wonderful it is to have you here today at this celebration,” said Bishop Rhoades.
Bishop Rhoades spoke of the Gospel message to render to Caeser what is his and to God what is God’s. “It is important for us to reflect on the teaching of Jesus in light of our culture today. Our Lord guides us on how we are to reconcile our obligations as members of civil society with our obligations as members of His Kingdom. ‘Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caeser and to God what belongs to God.’”
He exhorted the congregation, “Today’s Gospel reminds us of our responsibilities as disciples of Jesus to be involved in the public arena where policies and laws are debated and enacted. Our faith and our consciences must inform our political choices. It is seriously wrong to separate morality from public policy or to claim that the separation of Church and state means removing God and moral truth from civil life.”
Bishop Rhoades told those gathered that in rendering to God what is God’s, the faithful at Mass offer their lives, prayers, praise, sufferings and works, “united with those of Jesus and His offering of Himself on the cross. This is the great gift and mystery of the Eucharist.”
Following the Mass, the blessing ceremony was held where parishioners and others gathered to celebrate the tribute to the man who served as deacon at St. Paul Parish for many years. Among those gathered were six of Deacon Zickgraf’s children.
Pat Zickgraf, son of the deacon and parishioner of St. Paul, said, “My father dedicated his life to serving other people, from young till the day he died. He answered the call to serve in World War II, … served as veteran service officer in Whitley County, … and three terms as mayor.”
As a member of the building committee of this particular project at the parish, Pat Zickgraf said, “It’s exciting to have this kind of addition to our church. It will enhance the ministry of helping the youth and will be a social place for the parish.” Of the center’s name he added, “It’s very humbling and gratifying. It’s quite an honor.”
Father Gary Sigler, pastor of St. Paul of the Cross Parish, was happy to see the completion of the center and to have had the blessing by Bishop Rhoades. He was also excited to have the church and wider community come and see the new facility as St. Paul of the Cross celebrated its patronal feast day of Oct. 20 throughout the weekend.
Father Sigler said though the center’s name was set before he was assigned to St. Paul Parish it is a good fit to honor the man who meant so much to the area. “Deacon Zickgraf was an important part of this parish. He served three terms as mayor of Columbia City. The center is named in honor of his contribution to the parish and his leadership.”
The Deacon Joseph Zickgraf Community Center is intended to be of use now for various activities and events, among them youth activities, basketball and volleyball games, wedding receptions and fundraising breakfasts and dinners, as well as a polling place for future elections.
“I’m excited to see what the future holds. It’s what the parish will have to discover,” said Father Sigler, who intends to contact the Red Cross to offer the center as space for future blood drives in the area as well.
St. Paul of the Cross Parish’s fall festival was held in the newly dedicated Deacon Joseph Zickgraf Community Center as its inaugural event following the blessing ceremony on Oct. 19, where parishioners and others shared dinner, games and other activities.