More than 40 years in the making, the Family of St. Gerald Parish is finally getting its gym built.
On an historic Sunday afternoon, parishioners broke ground for its new gym at Southwest Highway and Central Avenue. The gym is a culmination of a dream for three generations of St. Gerald parishioners, who had put the gym on the back burner, while rebuilding the school and church after both were nearly destroyed by the 1967 Oak Lawn tornado.
Land had been purchased across 55th Avenue for a standalone, all-purpose gymnasium, but the lot was sold when the parish needed money during the 1990s. There were decades of students playing wherever they could find a court and field to practice and host visiting teams.
“Unfortunately for many reasons the plans for the gym did not become realized as we rebuilt St. Gerald,” parishioner Matt Egan said, who’s belonged to the parish his entire life.
“In the early and mid-1970s as a teen I witnessed a huge amount of work and dedication by many people in the parish. There were carnivals back then, and plays and many activities,” Egan recalled. “I’m proud to say that my dad was one of those people along with a legion of others who on every weekend and weeknight were here rebuilding after the tornado.”
In 2002, after a resurgence of the parish, getting the gym built became the number one mission of St. Gerald’s Holy Name Society.
By the time Fr. Lawrence Malcolm was appointed to St. Gerald's, the priest had already built a gym at his previous parish, St. Daniel the Prophet.
“When I first arrived here the first thing I noticed was a sign on Southwest Highway and Central Avenue, that said ‘help us with our dream to build a gym,’” Fr. Malcolm recalled. “Your dream was my nightmare. I can sleep in peace soon.”
Parishioners had already raised 75-percent of the funds for the gym, mainly through carnivals and monthly pledge checks from parishioners.
“We came back ten to twelve years ago working on a new vision for how the activity center would work,” Alex Olejniczak said, an Oak Lawn trustee and life-long parishioner of St. Gerald. “Fr. Malcolm brought it down the home stretch. A friend of his donated the final 25 percent.”
The gym will be named for the grandson of two long-time parishioners, John and Alice Collins, who joined the parish in 1962 and raised five children in Oak Lawn.
Their grandson, Marine Lance Cpl. Jonathan Collins, was 19 years old when he was killed by sniper fire during combat operations in Iraq in 2004.
“When Jon was in Iraq he sent a photo of himself surrounded by children,” his grandmother Alice said. “He loved children and there really could be no greater honor for Jonathan than to know for all the decades of time to come, children and seniors and everyone in between will be enjoying the activity center.”
Before the politicians sunk shovels into the ground for the ceremonial groundbreaking, St. Gerald fifth-grader Caitlyn Jucas summed it up best when she said she was glad the gym was finally being built so she could have a place to play and attend activities with her family.
“It will be nice to have a gym and not pay rent,” she said. “We’ll finally have home court advantage."