July 15, 2024


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Ceremony marks the start of construction of St. Mary House in Mattoon | Local

MATTOON — Eleven years ago, a group of Catholics in Charleston decided to build the St. Hedwig Haus of Hospitality, a two-story home with five bedrooms to enhance the lives of women and children in need with a place to stay. 

“We as Christians believe that our mission is to shelter the homeless and to comfort the sorrowing and to bless people with what we’ve been blessed with,” said Terry Coulton, board member and volunteer at the St. Hedwig Haus. “It’s important to help people at the most personal possible level, so I get to meet the women and assist them in whatever way possible. I feel like it helps me to.”

Soon after, Coulton said the Father Tolton House and the Dorothy Day House were erected over the span of few years before the same need presented itself in Mattoon. 

Following the success of the St. Hedwig Haus, the Catholic Workers Community in Coles County is establishing a new home for women and children called the St. Mary House near Immaculate Conception Church, 2008 Champaign Ave.

Parishioners, local officials and neighboring churches celebrated the groundbreaking of the new home with a short gospel reading and music by Coulton and her husband, Patrick. 

After blessing the ground and leading everyone in a closing prayer, Father John Titus, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, said the whole idea of building the St. Mary House started with the other homes and he was waiting for an opportunity to arise since he transferred to Mattoon in 2015. 

It was not until the former owner of the property, Shirley Derixson, who lived there for 40-some years, decided to sell her house for $16,000 to the church in 2021. She died on Dec. 8, known for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. 

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“We were very anxious to purchase the property from her but she was a sweet lady, a great neighbor and she was very supportive of this mission and what we are going to do here,” Titus said. “There are so many people that are in need.” 

The home is still in the process of raising funds but they are ready to build the foundation and begin framing once the weather permits and lumber gets shipped, said Henry Unkraut, board member and designer of the St. Mary House.

Unkraut said the home will include three bedrooms that have their own bathrooms for families to have some privacy, a full kitchen on the first floor with a half-bathroom for guests and a metal roof painted blue to signify Mary and the colors of motherhood. 

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“We should be able to handle a mother and two or three children in each of those bedrooms and that’s pretty much what it is, to give them a place to go and stay there for awhile without any expenses,” Unkraut said. “They can take that time and money be able to get an education or save up for a place to live more permanently.” 

Clergymen from other parishes around Mattoon included Pastor Todd Krost of First United Methodist Church, Father David Knox of Trinity Episcopal Church and Rev. Matthew Froeschle of First Presbyterian Church, who all came to the ground breaking to show their support and hopefully get some breakfast before it was too late. 

Krost said they all meet together with Titus on a weekly basis to catch up on each other’s parishes and identify needs that cross over their different denominations, while also taking the time to talk about books. 

“I had a Tuesday Bible study group that went over the various denominations and we went on a field trip to each other’s churches to see how they look and meet the pastors,” Krost said. “I found when the churches work together, they thrive and do better when there’s cooperation between each other.”

Jody Secondino-Crandell, president of the Mattoon Deanery Council, said Catholic women of the council have taken it upon themselves to raise $3,500 in four months to buy all the appliances necessary, including the stove, refrigerator and microwave. 

With 35 parishes in the area, Secondino-Crandell said they are asking each parish to donate $100 to meet their budget and to be able to buy everything in time before the first families move in. 

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“Our mission statement is to bring Christ alive in the community and to do good work in the form of educating and empowering women,” Secondino-Crandell said. “They’re hoping to have families in here by September or October so we want to be ready and have something for them.”