This groundwork for the modular classrooms was already underway when Fr. Jenkins came to the parish in July of 2007. The Catechetical Center would be dedicated in 2010 and we honored Msgr. Mark Knestout who instigated the project prior to devoting himself to full-time work as the Liturgical Director for the Archdiocese.
The vendor for the construction was the company MODULAR GENIUS. A grant from the Sullivan Foundation for $80,000 helped make possible the modular building although the unwieldy process of getting the project approved by the local government of Prince George’s County proved to be very difficult and tasking.
Planting of the Queen Woods
Park and Planning required that we plant 500 trees even though not one tree was cut down in this project. Indeed, the County specified the types of trees and the required spacing, even listing two trees that were embargoed as illegal to plant by the State of Maryland. We had to wait an additional month to get two alternative trees for the list. This addition to the effort cost the parish $15,000 more. The parishioner and landscaper that facilitated this operation was our own Neiland Queen. The pastor remarked (somewhat jokingly) that we might refer to it as the Queen Woods. An unfortunate element was this cost us space in the grass for overflow parking.
Testimony from the Pastor
The Historical Commission was even more problematical as a number of members seemed to prefer an understanding of the parish as a dead museum than as a living and breathing faith community. The Historical Commission prescribed changes to the ramp, windows, siding and roof if we were to get its approval. However, when all was said and done, and the cost of the project had exploded to $180,000 plus, the same members who demanded the changes still voted against the permit for the building. We lost the vote on two occasions. The pastor (Fr. Joseph Jenkins) came to a Commission meeting so as to insist upon a third vote.
“When I arrived I was verbally challenged by one of the members, ‘Why are you even here? We voted down this project! It’s dead!’ I pleaded with them. Explaining the history of the parish as a sanctuary for black Catholics to worship, I argued that they were disenfranchising their descendants (along with new Asian immigrants) from their own church. We needed this building so as to have space to instruct the children in their faith. One of the more vocal men shouted, ‘I just do not care, I do not care!’ And then wagging his finger at me, ‘You can’t put a shed on that property without my permission!’ (Another member ran a tree nursery and before the meeting I had mentioned purchasing from him in the past. I guess this compromised him because he abstained in the subsequent tallying.) As for everyone else, and make of it what you will, each white person voted against the permit and every African-American voted for it. We won by one vote! It was an understatement to say that two of the men who opposed the project were especially unhappy.”
Despite the difficulties we faced over a decade ago, we are very proud and proactive about our history as a parish. It remains our hope that true partnerships will replace adversarial relationships between those caring for historical sites (like ours) and the authorities or bureaucracies charged with historical oversight on behalf of the county and state.
Use of the Building as our PREP Center
The building usage was earmarked for catechetical formation. Four rooms were divided by sliding panels which could be opened when there was need for a larger space.
The modular building has been a godsend for our church and it continues to be a valuable parish resource. In no way does it detract from the historical appreciation of our parish.
A lady on the Historical Commission who works in the Prince George’s School system remarked during the meeting for the permit that while we might not like modular or temporary buildings, sometimes they are necessary for pragmatic reasons. Speaking from experience, she noted that the public schools by necessity have used them for years to great success as adjunct classrooms to avoid over crowding. This particular building was modified at great cost to fit in with the church and parish hall. The windows were enlarged and a flat roof was slanted. Grades 5 through 8 have used the building. The capacity for each of the four sections is about 12 students, for a possible total of 48.