Coralville parish breaks ground on expansion project

Lindsay Steele
Father Chuck Adam applauds members of St. Thomas More-Coralville community during a ceremonial groundbreaking April 7. Crews have begun construction on a building addition to expand the main worship space and create additional room for lower-level activities.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

CORALVILLE — As parishioners gathered for Mass at St. Thomas More Church earlier this month, some took seats in the main worship area. Once those spots filled up, ushers guided the faithful to one of two overflow areas to watch Mass on TV. It was business as usual for the parish, which has more than doubled in size since moving to Coralville in 2009.

For years, the growing parish has dreamed of having enough room for everyone to worship in the same space. In about 18 months, that dream will become reality. The parish recently broke ground on an addition to expand the worship space and lower level. “It’s been a long time coming,” said Father Chuck Adam, the parish’s pastor.

An addition to the west side of the building will expand seating capacity of the worship space from 475 to 1,070. Temporary and moveable chairs, used for the previous decade, will be replaced by fixed pews and kneelers, with portions of the space designed for more flexible layouts and uses, said Rodney Lehnertz, a member of the parish’s campaign/fundraising team.


The “Growing More in Faith” campaign began six years ago after a feasibility study identified parking, worship space and paying off the mortgage as parishioners’ primary concerns. The parish paid the debt in 2019 and moved forward with plans to double the size of the parking lot in 2020.

St. Thomas More had about $5 million pledged toward a $7 million building addition when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The parish slowed down fundraising efforts at that time; meanwhile, building costs went up, campaign team members said. When the campaign resumed in earnest in 2022, the parish revised the design to utilize more of the existing space. Even with this money-saving measure, overall costs rose to about $10 million for the upper level work and unfinished lower level.

Additional fundraising initiatives — including a Dance More-a-Thon, helped bring in enough funds to start the project. The Diocese of Davenport requires 60% of total funds to be collected prior to starting construction. A new kitchen, fellowship hall, youth room and music room on the lower level will be finished during or after the current construction project, depending on how quickly the parish can raise the additional funds.

Father Adam announced groundbreaking plans during Mass in December. “Today, just as Isaiah says to the Jewish people in exile, ‘your waiting is about over,’ I am happy to announce that we are nearing the point that construction can begin,” he told parishioners then.

The parish hosted a ceremonial groundbreaking April 7 in the parish hall. The west windows provided the standing room-only crowd a view of the excavation in progress. Muddy conditions prevented the parish from celebrating outdoors so Father Adam, former pastors, parishioners and benefactors took turns holding shovels and turning over soil in a wheelbarrow. The soil was to be spread on the construction site at a later date.

“Today, we break ground not only for a physical structure but for a spiritual home — a place where faith will flourish, hearts will be lifted and lives will be transformed,” Father Adam said at the groundbreaking.

Lehnertz credits the growing Iowa City corridor population, Father Adam’s leadership, compelling worship music and a supportive community for the growth in membership over the past 15 years. He is grateful that the building will also experience growth in the coming months. “Fundraising and construction cost challenges, created by COVID, made it all the more difficult, but the fast-growing St. Thomas More family and the wonderful leadership of this parish became only closer through it all.”

“It’s not only a big parish, but a vibrant parish,” Diocesan Administrator Father Ken Kuntz said at the groundbreaking. “It’s going to be fun to watch that building come forth.”

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