BY JEFF FALK
SOUTH LEBANON – What once was a holy house of worship has been transformed into a multi-purpose athletic facility.
The root of that transformation? The most common form of divine intervention, the indirect kind.
There was a time not too long ago when the building that stands at 750 State Drive in South Lebanon wasn’t Saint Cecilia’s Parish Center. In the 1970s, 80s and 90s, that particular building was the regular place of worship for Saint Gregory’s Catholic Church.
“I don’t know that He’s ever told me what teams He’s for,” said Father Joe Scanlin, pastor of St. Cecilia’s, when asked if indeed God is a fan of sports. “Hopefully there are things taught through sports, like good sportsmanship, team work, comraderie. They’re all goods. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and we need to take care of them. Sports is one way to do that.
“Now, does He cheer for certain teams, or Notre Dame?,” Scanlin added. “I don’t think so.”
In the early 1990s, a few years before Scanlin became the pastor, the former St. Gregory’s and St. Gertrude’s parishes were combined into what is now St. Cecilia’s. The move was necessitated by the Catholic church’s on-going shortage of priests, but it was a turbulent time of re-adjustment.
Ultimately, it was decided that the old St. Gertrude’s church would be used for regular worship services. But what should be done with the old St. Gregory’s church?
“It gives the men of the parish some place to go and something to do,” said Scanlin. “There are times when different groups of kids use it. Making it into a gym was a good move on their part. But I don’t know what else they could’ve used it for.
“It worked out well,” Scanlin continued. “It’s there, we used it and I think the community is benefitting from it. It’s all to the good.”
So, the pews, sanctuary, statues, crucifix and altar were removed. And the former St. Gregory’s was turned into a gymnasium, complete with a hardwood floor, a pair of glass baskets, a scoreboard, proper lighting, even some nautilus weight equipment.
“It was fairly easy to do,” said Scanlin. “There were pews in there and a slightly raised sanctuary where the altar was. To take that out there wasn’t a lot of cost. It probably had a cement floor, they prepped it and put on a gym floor.”
Besides men’s pick-up basketball and Lebanon Catholic sixth and seventh-grade CYO practices and games, St. Cecilia’s gymnasium plays host to volleyball matches and indoor soccer. Local Intermediate Unit-13 and Alcoholics Anonymous have also made good use of the facility.
Below the gymnasium, there exists a social hall. And the grounds of St. Cecilia’s Parish Center is used for three summer-time parish festivals.
“I’m very pleased with the amount of activity,” said Scanlin. “The more we use it the better it is. We’re not out to make money on it. Just as long as it’s paying the bills. It’s being used quite well.
“That building was sitting there for a while, before we encouraged people to use it,” added Scanlin. “We’re trying to keep it that there’s activity out there. We’re trying to accomodate all the usage, but sometimes it’s a challenge.”
When the old St. Gregory’s was built in 1968, the original plans called for a school and a new church to be erected at a later time. Under those plans, and with that complex in place, what is now St. Cecilia’s Parish Center would’ve been turned into a gymnasium.
“Initially, when St. Gregory’s was built, there was also going to be a school and a gym,” said Scanlin. “That never came to fruition. The merger happened because of the shortage of priests and there were some tough decisions to be made. From my understanding that was built the way it was because it was going to be a gymnasium. That building is not like any church I’ve ever seen before. It was supposed to serve as a church until they built a new church.
“any time they close churches and people have to leave their places of worship, it’s a difficult time,” Scanlin continued. “It’s like leaving family. It was emotionally trying. That’s what happened with St. Cecilias.”