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Parishes work together for Catholic school

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They might be eight miles away from each other, but parishioners at St. Michael Church in South Sioux City and St. Patrick Church in Jackson are uniting to help keep Catholic education strong in their area.

Members of St. Michael Parish are building a house in Jackson to raise money for their five-day school, St. Michael, and both communities have volunteered their services and machinery to get the job done.

The labor is free, most of the materials were donated or discounted and the realtor who will sell the house is working with no commission. Even the lot of land on which the house is built was donated.

Once the house is sold, some of the money will go to the school's endowment while the remainder will be used to supplement the school for the next three years. The parish is hoping to get $175,000 to $180,000 for the house, said Father Dan Wittrock, pastor.

"St. Michael School has been struggling for years," he said. "If we pull it off, this project is going to really give our school a booster shot for a few years."

Bringing people together

Tom Lynch of Jackson and his wife, Jean, donated the lot located on three acres owned by the Lynch family. Since retiring from the railroad in 1995, Lynch and his wife have supported Bishop Heelan High School in Sioux City, Iowa, and decided to do the same for St. Michael School, where Lynch's wife attended grade school.

When a strip of Lynch's three acres was removed to make way for a street, leaving him with three separate lots for houses, Lynch decided to donate the land to the church. He said he got the idea from other parishes in the archdiocese that raffled off houses to raise money.

Lynch encouraged friends at St. Michael to build a house with donations and sell it with the proceeds going to St. Michael School.

"It's just a small school, but they are just wonderful children," Lynch said. "It just makes you feel good to be able to give them this start whether they go on to Catholic high school or not. At least they get this good solid base to get started on and I think it lives with them forever."

Digging began last fall and people have been working on the project almost every day. They expect to complete the house in about six more weeks, said Father Wittrock, who has been working on the house right alongside his parishioners.

Not only does the project have parishioners of two churches in different towns working together, but it also is bringing young and old residents together to work side by side. Several retired men have volunteered their knowledge and skills. Those who can't help physically have donated money to help with the project. Even high school students have come out to the site to help.

Several businesses not associated with the Catholic Church also have shown their support by donating items for the project.

"It's really been exciting to see the community involvement," Father Wittrock said. "We just can't thank them enough for doing this for the school and for the kids."

Concrete house

The 1,500-square-foot, three-bedroom house located on St. Patrick Court in Jackson was based on designs by Homes by Design One in Omaha. The house is made of insulated concrete walls, which makes it a strong structure, Father Wittrock said. It also has a safe room for storms. As an extra feature, Siouxland Heating Company of Sioux City, Iowa, donated a geothermal heat pump to save the homeowner a significant amount of money each month, he said.

"This month is terribly cold, but we can heat the house for $20 a month with a geothermal heat pump and likewise in the summer we can air condition it for $20 a month," Father Wittrock said.

The house also has a two-car garage and basement.

Ed Jones, a retired carpenter and general contractor who built several houses in the Siouxland area, is coordinating the building project with his wife, Mary Jo, and Leo and Evonne Kramper.

The Joneses have had a connection to St. Michael School ever since their four daughters were students there. Ed Jones coached softball and basketball there for several years, too.

"Once we saw what the faith did for our children, we couldn't help but continue to help," Mary Jo Jones said. "We firmly believe in Catholic education."

The opportunity to build a house with other members of the community has been one of the best parts of the work, she said.

"It has been wonderful for us to get to know the people of our parish better and the surrounding parishes," she said. "We knew the people of our parish, but to know them and work side by side with them for the betterment of our children ... it just gives me goose bumps to think about it."

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