Pandemic didn’t stop classroom renovations

Kaitlyn Stallard’s second grade class and all the other students at St. Margaret Mary School in Wichita are learning in new classrooms this year. Leading the campaign for the school and church renovations are, from left, Fr. Garett Burns, parochial vicar, Principal Kylan Colins, alum Tom Borrego, and Fr. Ned Blick, pastor. (Advance photo)

St. Margaret Mary raises money to renovate the school; more parish upgrades are planned

Father Michael Brungardt may have been the instigator for the renovation of all the classrooms at St. Margaret Mary School in Wichita.

When the pastor, Fr. Ned Blick, thought a little paint and some new shades might brighten up the classrooms, Fr. Brungardt thought a hammer might be a better tool.

“He had a big hammer and started knocking down 50-year-old chalkboards and beating down cabinets,” Fr. Blick said with a smile, adding that he hated to throw his former parochial vicar under the bus. “I tried to pull back the reins on the young zealous priest, but it was too late. We had already gone out on a limb.”

Alum helps organize funding

Tom Borrego, an alum of the school and a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, joined the two priests on that limb. He helped organize a $300,000 silent campaign of donations and pledges to renovate all of St. Margaret Mary Catholic School’s classrooms: new floors, new windows (a tremendous comfort during the mid-February Arctic blast), new paint, new furniture, new whiteboards, and other technology.

Fr. Blick contemplated plans for a renovation about a year ago, Borrego said. “We kind of chuckled about doing something like this in the midst of Covid. But the need was great and Father had already kind of gotten the ball rolling a little bit and so we’re sort of catching up to what he was wanting to get accomplished over the summer.”

After some initial fundraising by Fr. Blick and Craig Schmidt, an alumnus and parishioner, Borrego organized a meeting of St. Margaret Mary alumni to discuss other fundraising options.

“This project seemed to resonate,” he said. “The people who had shown some interest initially were very much enthused about what could be done.”

Because Fr. Blick was still relatively new to the parish, the committee began meeting with alums, sharing their plans, and soliciting donations and pledges.

Video helps renovation effort

A video that included testimony from former pastors Fr. Ivan Eck and Fr. Dwight Birket helped communicate the school’s needs, Borrego said. “Once that went out, people started responding. The committee began to get energized, and the wishful thinking we had about the project began to get some legs.”

Parishioners also pitched in to get a lot of the work done over the summer so that the schools would be ready by September.

But the work isn’t quite over. The aging heating and air conditioning system is beginning to wheeze.

Bob Simpson, of Simpson Construction Services, who had been working with Father Blick, Borrego said, suggested that the parish replace the church’s HVAC system when they replaced the school’s. “So we decided to add that onto our project as another component if we could reach that goal of getting this (classroom renovation) taken care of.”

The committee is wrapping up the quiet phase of the fundraising campaign and is initiating a public phase.

Cornejos donate matching grant

The Marty and Ron Cornejo Families, alumni of the school and former parishioners, have donated $25,000 and earmarked an additional $25,000 as a matching grant to kick off the public phase of the campaign.

“We will soon be reaching out to all of our alumni and friends of St. Margaret Mary Catholic School to invite them to join us in this worthy project,” Borrego said. The Committee is creating a donor wall that will recognize all that have supported this effort.

Fr. Blick said he’s had nothing but a positive reaction from parents and children. ‘They’re blown away by how great the place looks.”

Teachers have made sacrifices to be here, he added. “Father Eric Weldon, a former pastor, said this parish is a bright light in this part of town. With 86 percent of the students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, this is a work of mercy. We’re making a parochial education accessible…serving people in need.”

Fr. Blick said he gives a lot of credit to the alumni, former parishioners, and others who have donated because of the strong sense of parish community and an understanding that the school is a place of mission.

Principal Kylan Collins said he fell in love with the school the way it was before the renovation but eagerly helped the renovation effort. “We just got started seeing all the things that we could do.”

Children excited about changes

The children are excited to be in school, he said. “The community really loves it, they’re grateful for everything that took place. Basically, I walked into a new school. That’s unheard of in this location with this financial status.

They’ve welcomed me with open arms. I feel like I’ve been here forever and I’ve only been here nine months.”

Fr. Garret Burns, the parochial vicar, said he jumped into the project midstream but was excited about the results.

“During the summer, I think I wore my work jeans more than my clerics because we’re in here, getting everything done,” he said, adding that the parish also generously assisted.

When time was running short an announcement was made at Mass for help. “They really showed up and pitched in. That was beautiful to see.”

Fr. Burns said the parish has a special place in his heart and that of his family.

“My grandparents were just about as close to founding members as you can get. Just a couple of years after the parish started they came in and raised their 11 kids here.”

Fr. Burns’ father told him that the chalkboards that were replaced by whiteboards were the same ones that he used when he attended St. Margaret Mary School.

The parochial vicar said he was so happy to see the parish that, in part, made him who he is and that has given so much to his family will continue to provide the same quality Catholic education and formation for years to come.