Labor of Love

A mix of strong faith and sweat equity builds community—and a church—in Unionville, Missouri.

Built in 1871, St. Mary Mission has been the only Catholic presence within 25 miles of rural Unionville, Missouri. For a long time, Catholics struggled to find their place within the local community. But today, things are different. And for the 55 families that call the tiny mission church their own, St. Mary's stands as proof that with time, prayer and a willingness to get their hands dirty, they are capable of great things.

In 2006, St. Mary's parishioners were keenly aware that their church was in dire need of repair. One Sunday, after celebrating weekly Mass, visiting priest Father Tom Alber commented on his fear of falling through the rotting floor. Also, growing numbers of parishioners were pushing the church's capacity on Sundays, and its small multi-purpose room no longer sufficed for gatherings or ministries.

Parishioners were determined to protect the integrity of their historical church, the second oldest in Unionville. "The only way we could have done this project was as a parish community," said committee member Gene Brummer. "We just couldn’t afford to hire someone."

Together, they worked diligently to finish a basement that would become their new parish center. When completed, they began work on the main floor. "Everyone pitched in," said Brummer. "If they weren't cooking for workers or babysitting so that people could come work, they were saying prayers or giving donations." A core group of parishioners volunteered up to five hours a day, saving the church an estimated $100,000.

At one point, when money was exhausted, Catholic Extension stepped in with nearly $50,000—enough for this energetic and determined community to complete its project.

After three years of tireless work, parishioners settled into the space, complete with an expanded sanctuary and new parish center. "We can't thank donors enough for what they've done for us," said Brummer. "I'm so proud of the way we came together. Each and every one of us now has ownership in this church."

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