May 28, 2024 // Diocese

Parishioners Drive Construction Project at Christ the King

The ongoing construction project at Christ the King Parish in South Bend wasn’t the pastor’s idea.

“The idea of expanding our vestibule was never on my radar,” Holy Cross Father Steve Lacroix said. “It was initiated by parishioners.”

Father Lacroix added that while the initial conversation with parishioners had been about cleaning up the church’s facade, the need for a larger gathering space in the church soon became clear. In response to feedback, Father Lacroix assembled a parishioner committee. Members of the committee have consulted him throughout what became the design and construction process of a new vestibule (also called the “narthex”).

Images provided by Creative Design Solutions, Inc.
This is a rendering of the soon-to-be-finished narthex addition at Christ the King Catholic Church in South Bend from the architectural firm Creative Design Solutions Inc.

In fact, a parishioner oversees the project. Andrew Roche has longstanding family history with Christ the King Catholic Church. His mother taught at Christ the King Catholic School, where he himself attended grade school. Now, his two daughters go to the school, and Roche and his family still attend Mass at the parish.

Roche is a principal architect at Creative Design Solutions Inc., an architectural firm based in South Bend. While much of the firm’s work is for the medical field, Roche has years of experience working on religious and sacred architecture projects. In fact, the narthex addition isn’t his first project for his home parish. The first was an extensive expansion for Christ the King Catholic School, which added on a gym, several classrooms, and other spaces.

“It allowed Christ the King to really move forward,” Roche said, adding that the school now has more space for a growing number of younger students.

It was out of the school project that the first ideas for church renovation, and then expansion, arose out of parishioner surveys. While the narthex project was first being discussed in January of 2020, the COVID-19 shutdown delayed plans.

This is a rendering of one of the new entrances to the narthex addition.

“We still kept working on the design during the shutdown, and that gave us the chance to be slow and deliberate in determining what we really wanted this space to be and what we could realistically afford to do,” Father Lacroix said.

The main problem the new narthex is intended to alleviate is a very small space for fellowship after Mass. As Roche recalled, during pleasant weather, parishioners linger outside, but during cold and rain, there is much more of a “do Mass and go home” mentality. With the new narthex, Sunday doughnuts can be held in the vestibule instead of in the basement, and there will even be space to move the parish’s food pantry and other ministries to the main floor. “It’s grown beyond just a gathering space to really becoming a space that can be used day to day,” Roche said.

As the project now stands, a new narthex is being added to the building, adding more than 5,000 square feet of new space. The parish is also taking this opportunity to improve many aspects of the old building, such as renovating the outside steps and ramp (which will now be inside), replacing roofs, and renovating the old narthex. “It started much smaller than where we ended up,” Roche said of the project.

This is a photo of the framing from the construction process of Christ the King Catholic Church’s narthex addition project.

Construction began in earnest in August of 2023, and the builders hope to be finished by this August. Currently, the roof is in place and the framing is being placed, with brick to be added to the exterior in the next couple of weeks.

The parish and parishioner committee have had to pivot during bumps in the project. Roche recalled one instance involving exterior brick. As Roche discovered, the bricks used in the original exterior of the church were produced by only one company and fired at just one factory in a special kiln called a “bee kiln.” Since the church was built, the factory has been modernizing to no longer fire in bee kilns, making the original brick color almost impossible to find. The parish eventually found an alternative: a staining process to create as close a color match to the existing brick as possible.

Of course, there have been bigger challenges. For instance, COVID-19 made construction much more expensive.

“We’ve had to deal with the same cost increases and supply chain issues that everyone else has,” Father Lacroix said. Another challenge, Father Lacroix added, is not having functional front doors in the church for the past year. “You can imagine all the inconveniences that causes,” Father Lacroix said. “But our parishioners have been so patient and have dealt with all these inconveniences without any complaints. I’ve been really grateful for that, and I think it’s a sign that folks know that this new vestibule is going to be worth it.”

Roche echoed these sentiments, saying that the way the parish “came together” to help, especially during increased costs, was “absolutely amazing.”

Father Lacroix is also looking forward to how the parish will continue to reach out to the broader community through the project.

“I also believe that this space gives us the opportunity to evangelize,” Father Lacroix said. “We’re located on a major five-lane artery, and this project is highly visible. The new exterior will be beautiful, and we have a committee of parishioners who are looking at ways that we can use this unique moment in the life of our parish to invite more people into our church.”

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