By S.L. Hansen
BELLWOOD (SNR) - When
the new rectory for the pastor of Saint Peter and Saint Joseph
parishes in Bellwood is complete, there will be many thankful
Father Jay Buhman, the
current pastor, will be thankful that he’ll no longer have to
deal with the troubles of a 100-year-old rectory with serious
The 180 families who
belong to the two parishes will be thankful that they were able
to provide a new, safe, functional building, while saving a
great deal of money.
Then there will be a
certain group of students from Aquinas High School in David
City, and their parents and teachers, who will be thankful that
the students had the opportunity to learn valuable skills while
they built the home themselves.
"A lot of people are
surprised in the quality that the students achieve in the
construction," said Mark Masur, the instructor who leads the
Since 1999, Aquinas
High School has been offering a series of classes in home
construction, cabinetry and cabinetry design, to prepare
students for a possible career in this valuable and competitive
field. During two semesters, the students construct a solid,
quality home that is later moved from the school to a permanent
Mr. Masur had been
teaching a similar program at a vocational high school in South
Dakota, Lake Region Vocational Education Center. A relative of
his from Nebraska was so impressed with what he was doing there,
she suggested that Aquinas in David City begin offering the same
sort of program.
"Aquinas was more
college-focused at that point, and didn’t offer a lot of
vocational training," Mr. Masur.
So, Mr. Masur sent a
letter to principal David McMahon, which described the program.
He followed up with a video, figuring Aquinas would contact him
if they wanted help setting up their own program.
To his surprise, Mr.
McMahon contacted him soon afterward, and not just for advice.
Mr. McMahon ended up offering him a job at Aquinas, thanks to an
image of the Good Carpenter that he had glimpsed in Mr. Masur’s
video of his South Dakota public school shop.
"When I hung it up, I
prayed I would never be challenged… that it wouldn’t make the
school system susceptible to a lawsuit," Mr. Masur said.
Instead, 16 years
later, that image of Christ brought him a wonderful opportunity
to become a positive influence on young people as a Catholic
schoolteacher, and to move his entire family to the David City
"It shows you how God
uses your best intentions beyond your wildest dreams," said Mr.
In the years since, he
has led many students through the construction process. They do
most of the work themselves, with a lot of guidance. And when a
licensed contractor is brought in to do the electrical or some
other high-level work, the students work closely with that
person, so they get good training in those areas as well.
In the long run,
students learn framing, electrical, drywall installation and
finishing, siding, roofing and more. It’s actually a more
comprehensive education than they’d get at any vocational
school, though the students do need more training before they
can get licensed.
Some Aquinas graduates
have even become independent contractors, and when they need to
hire new employees, they look for Aquinas students who have
taken Building Trades, Cabinetry or Cabinetry and CAD.
Early last year, Mr.
Masur got a call asking if the students could handle building a
rectory for Bellwood.
A rectory is a
different kind of project, because it includes office space and
a conference room as well as living quarters. It’s also bigger –
a little more than 2,000 square feet. Mr. Masur was confident
that his students were up for the challenge.
The current rectory is
nearly 100 years old and plagued with structural problems. The
roof is bad, the electrical system is outdated, and the
foundation is slowly giving way, among other issues. Father
Buhman had to admit it was time to replace it.
He brought the
situation to the attention of the parish, and they responded as
generously as they could.
"To take on a project
like this is really significant," Father Buhman said. "One of
the great blessings here is our parishioners were so
Somebody brought the
Aquinas program to Father Buhman’s attention, and he thought
this would be a great way to save money on the rectory building
project and help the high school that his parishioners attend.
"We had parishioners
who toured the previous year’s house and were so impressed with
the quality of work," Father Buhman said. "The craftsmanship is
After a bit of
negotiation and choosing building materials to match Saint Peter
Church, the Aquinas students started construction last
September. The bulk of the work will be completed by the end of
the school year, and the rectory will be moved over its new
basement just behind the existing rectory.
Then, the final work
will be completed, like exterior brick, flooring, and so on.
In the long run, Mr.
Masur estimates that the Aquinas program saved the parishes
somewhere around $40,000 in construction costs.
"This has really been a
tremendous blessing," Father Buhman said.
For Mr. Masur, he takes
a great deal of satisfaction in the fact that that his students
are learning that God has given them gifts that they can use to
accomplish wonderful things.
"More than they ever thought possible," he