COMMITTED TO THE CONVENT
July 6, 2010 at 2:06 a.m.
Updated July 8, 2010 at 2:08 a.m.
SHINER - Not many Eagle Scout projects carry a $1.5 million price tag.
In 2007, Shiner St. Paul High School students and members of Boy Scout Troop 231, Devin Pesek and Blue Hybner, decided to tackle the renovation of the St. Ludmila convent for their Eagle Scout projects. The convent building is used as part of the Shiner Catholic School.
The enormity of the effort didn't hit them at first.
"We talked to Father Bob (Knippenberg, pastor of Sts. Cyril & Methodius Catholic Church) and he kind of thought we were crazy," said Devin. "We knew it was going to be big, but we didn't realize it was going to be this much work."
Blue agreed with his partner.
"Especially the monetary part. When we heard $1.5 million, that was outrageous," he said.
But the boys were determined.
"We thought we should honor the sisters who built the convent and dedicated it to our school," Devin said. "We felt this project would leave an indelible mark."
Those sisters are the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament who began Incarnate Word Academy in Shiner, later known as St. Ludmila Academy, in 1897.
The convent was built in 1916 with funds raised by friends and family of the sisters and a large personal donation by the Rev. Francis Machan, pastor of Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church at the time.
In 2004, the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament left the parish and school after 107 years. Sisters from the Dominican Sisters of the Immaculate Conception now serve the parish and live in a house across the street from the school.
The IWBS sisters are pleased with the renovation efforts.
"We appreciate the people of Shiner taking pride in the historical value of the landmark building that served as a convent and school," said Sister Amata Hollas. "We are happy to see this renovation of an important symbol of past faith endeavors. We believe that the initiation of this project by two Eagle Scouts will lead to a deepening of a faith commitment for the entire parish family."
Hollas, archivist for the Sisters of the IWBS and a past principal of Shiner Catholic School, was among those who helped Devin, 16, and Blue, 17, provide a historical perspective to their project.
"That has been one of the most interesting things about the project," Blue said. "Finding out about the Sisters and how they started the school."
The teens said Knippenberg laid out what needed to be done step by step, including meetings with the parish building committee, with the architect, with parish members and, of course, seeking the funding.
"That was the hardest part, getting all the money," Devin said, noting that the initial $25,000 to hire an architect came from a combination of $10,000 from a Texas Historic Preservation Grant, a donation from the Historic Old Town Shiner organization, $10,000 from anonymous donors, and $5,000 in a series of smaller donations from businesses and individuals in Shiner.
After an architect was hired - Heimsath Architects of Austin - more planning meetings were held and the firm came up with a master plan for the project. That evolved into a master plan for the entire church property, including the convent project.
Then the future Eagle Scouts had to raise more money.
Both boys credit their families, among others, for helping them locate grant opportunities for the additional funding.
Grants were obtained from the Stephen and Mary Birch Foundation and the New Jersey Community Foundation.
The Birch Foundation also offered a challenge grant, donating $2 for every $1 the boys raised up to an additional $500,000.
A capital campaign last year, from May through August, pushed the fundraising effort to the $1.5 million goal.
With the funds committed, the project is now in the hands of the parish building committee and the contractor, Krueger Construction of Victoria, but the boys aren't necessarily done.
"That's just the minimum required," said Devin. "We will probably keep raising funds to do everything we'd like to do. Some of these grants we can apply for annually and if they see we are making progress, maybe they'll fund us again."
THE CONVENT TODAY
The convent's first floor and basement are used by the elementary school for administration offices, classrooms, computer and music rooms, and a teacher's lounge.
The top two floors have not been used in several years and much of the electrical and plumbing systems are outdated and not working.
The roof also leaks and the upper floor has suffered water damage, according to master plan documents.
The plan is to renovate these areas for use as classrooms and meeting rooms. The anticipated completion date for the project is February.
EARNING THE EAGLE
The boys will complete their Eagle Scout applications later this month and hope to receive their rank before the end of the year.
The project is split into two projects for their Eagle Scout applications: The duo divided up the floors for their individual projects.
"One big thing was to get our part done before we turned 18," said Blue, the elder of the two. "That's a requirement, and we've done that."