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Collins Activity Center Opens At St. Gerald

St. Gerald Parish will be hosting a dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly completed Ñ and long-awaited Ñ Jonathan Collins Activity Center on Saturday evening on the church grounds at 9310 S. 55th Court, in Oak Lawn.

The 6 to 10 p.m. event will include an ÒAmerican-style” barbecue following the dedication of the building, named after the grandson of longtime parishioner Alice Collins. Lance Cpl. Jonathan Collins, who lived in Crystal Lake, was a U.S. Marine and platoon leader serving in Iraq when he was killed at age 19 by a sniper’s bullet on Aug. 4, 2004.

The center includes a multipurpose room with a full-size gym that will serve as home court for parish basketball, volleyball and other sports teams.

ÒParishioners have been waiting 40 years for this. Our teams never had a home court before,” said the pastor, the Rev. Lawrence Malcolm, on Monday.

During a short tour of the new building, he noted that the basketball hoops still needed to be hung, and the wood floor and bleachers have yet to be installed. He said $1.8 million has already been spent on the building, and $400,000 more will be needed to complete it. The funding came largely from donations, including $500,000 from one person.

ÒWe have the nets and hopefully after the parish carnival (in August), we will have enough to put the floor in,” said the pastor.

Even without the gym completed, Malcolm noted that the building is already being used by children in the summer camp program. He said there are 2,400 families in the parish, and 400 students in St. Gerald, and the center will be used all year.

The pastor noted that children whose families belong to the parish, whether they attend St. Gerald School or not, are welcome to participate in the programming. He said the parish offers children’s programs weekdays until 6 p.m., 50 weeks of the year, so parents don’t working parents don’t have to scramble for babysitters when school is not in session.

Malcolm credited the Holy Name Society, and the committee led by parishioner and village trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd), for making the activity center become a reality.

ÒThey have been working very hard on this. And you can’t say no to them,” he said.

Malcolm, the former pastor of both St. Bede and St. Daniel the Prophet churches in Chicago, he noted that this is the second parish gym he has been involved in getting completed.

During his 16-year stint as pastor of St. Daniel the Prophet, a gym named after him was built at that Garfield Ridge school as well.

ÒInstead of saving souls, I’m saving waistlines,” he joked.

ÒAs a lifelong resident of the parish Ñ I received all my sacraments there so far Ñ I’m very happy to see the activity center open,” said Olejniczak on Tuesday. ÒIt has been in the works since 1967.”

ÒIt’s a true gift. It will be great for the church, the parish and the whole village,” said Olejniczak.

In the biography she wrote of her fun-loving grandson that was distributed in the parish bulletin recently, Alice Collins thanked parishioners for their donations and support in seeing the project through to completion. She told how her fun-loving grandson took a nun out for a dance at his eighth grade graduation dinner dance, acted in plays in high school, and excelled in swimming and soccer before going to Camp Pendleton for Marine boot camp a few days after graduating.

ÒHe was a gift from God. His memory still is. And now because of you, hundreds upon hundreds of children will fill his namesake activity center with good sportsmanship, determination, excitement and cheers,” she concluded.

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