A $3.15 million expansion project underway for a youth center and office space signals a commitment to planting seeds of faith, both now and in future generations, say leaders of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church.

The initiative began with a ceremonial Oct. 7 groundbreaking ceremony at Bartholomew County’s largest single house of worship, which has a weekly average attendance of nearly 2,000 worshipers at 1306 27th St. in Columbus. Dunlap & Company Inc. of Columbus is building the addition, designed by Steve Risting of atelierRISTING Design and Architecture of Indianapolis.

Risting helped design the church in 2002, collaborated on The Commons design in 2011 and has worked on a variety of other local buildings.

Scotty Biggs, coordinator of youth ministry at the church for the past four years, said the new building, which includes a 3,000-square foot youth cafe/classroom/small group meeting space, reflects the parish’s perspective as valuing youth as key components to current ministry. They currently serve in a variety of adult roles — Scripture readers, greeters, altar servers — during weekend Masses.

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Two teens also serve on the actual parish council.

“One of the things I love about this church is that it sees our teenagers as more than just our future,” Biggs said. “We see teens as important in the church right now. That has been one youth’s ministry’s greatest strengths here.”

The stone, two-level, 6,000-square-foot space, to be built along Home Avenue on the church’s south end, is aimed for completion in June, according to organizers.

“This will be a huge improvement on what we now have,” Biggs said, referring to the school’s partial cafeteria/old stage space that currently serves youth.

The church currently includes more than 150 young people, seventh-graders through seniors, in about nine different youth groups meeting weekly at St. Bartholomew, Biggs said. Of that number, he and Davis mentioned that a total of 116 youth, mostly freshmen and sophomores, are part of the formal confirmation classes publicly proclaiming their faith.

Bart Leonarski, one of the teen student youth leaders, called the plans for the new space “pretty great.” He also said he believes the project will further fuel young people’s evangelization efforts.

“It will make building relationships that much easier,” Leonarski said of the dedicated space that can be used for what organizers called hanging out. “And that means we eventually can be stronger in numbers.”

Biggs also sees the flexible space, accommodating as many as 60 teens at once, as a good, informal area to welcome young people unfamiliar with Christianity or the Catholic faith.

Capital campaign pledges have exceeded the expected price tag for the work, said Tom Vujovich, chairman of that effort. The overall total cost includes some improvements inside the school such as lighting and moving walls to create meeting rooms in the church, organizers said.

The new building itself will cost about $2 million, according to estimates.

Davis said the church’s growth can be linked to several factors, including workforce increased at Columbus-based Cummins Inc.’s and other local employers.

“We’re seeing a lot of growth in the Latino community,” Davis said, pointing out that a Sunday afternoon Hispanic Mass has doubled in attendance to 400 people in four years.

Plus, Davis said that parish welcome gatherings conducted every quarter regularly feature new members from all over the world who have arrived to work for Cummins and other global firms.

Also, the church’s religious education program with students from prekindergarten to sixth grade, currently has more than 300 students — an increase of about 30 percent in about five years, Davis said.

The pastor credited some of that growth to intentional outreach.

“We try to open our doors to more young adults and others,” Davis said.

John Dorenbusch, a member of the committee that has planned the project, has been a member of the local Catholic community, which once featured two parishes, since 1963. He mentioned that when the current physical 900-seat church was built in 2002, “We were confident there would be more growth (in the parish).”

Greg Otolski, director of communication for the Catholic archdiocese of Indianapolis, called the effort “one of the most exciting projects (in the archdiocese) of the past five years.”

He saluted the leadership of Davis, in part, for the church growth — a development that he said is unique among Catholic parishes today. In recent years, the archdiocese has been forced to close a number of its churches because of dwindling attendance.

“Father Clem is very tuned in to the parish and its needs,” Otolski said. “And he and others have done a great job at helping families remain engaged in the parish. And that is obviously really paying off.”

By the numbers: Serving youth

9: Number of youth groups at the Columbus Catholic church

60: Number of teens that the youth center can easily accommodate at one time

150: Number of teens currently attending youth groups at the church

3,000: Square feet planned for the youth space

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.