Jefferson project provides more accessibility to church, school Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Kevin Wondrash   
Thursday, Sep. 28, 2017 -- 12:00 AM
st john jefferson
A resident from St. Coletta of Wisconsin in Jefferson is helped into St. John the Baptist Church in Jefferson before a recent Mass. People in wheelchairs and with other disabilities can now enter the church and school building on the new ramp pictured above. (Contributed photo)

JEFFERSON -- “It’s like heaven now taking my mother to church.”

A bold statement, but fully expressive of the joy some parishioners are feeling in Jefferson.

The above quote was feedback heard at St. John the Baptist Church, part of St. Francis of Assisi Parish.

It came near the close of a yearlong project to make the church more accessible to people with disabilities or other physical challenges to walk or enter buildings.

Now, there is added accessibility to the church and school.

Addressing a need

Steve Donley, member of the parish Building and Grounds Committee, said there had been growing instances of “people having trouble getting into church.”

These included people tripping on concrete walkways and wheelchairs not getting in easily.

More than a year ago, the committee began to look into the costs and practicalities of a project to increase accessibility.

The attitude was, “We have to get this fixed, and we have to make this better for people to get in,” said Harold Dehnert, also from the committee whose members put in many hours, sometimes 10 to 12 a day, to make the project happen, and keeping the project costs low.

Another concern was increasing the accessibility to the school bathrooms, the only ones on the grounds, and only accessible via a small staircase between the church and school.

Added to this, was a need for increased accessibility to the school itself.

The overwhelming goal was that “everyone should have access to the church and the school,” said Dehnert.

This includes its more than 3,000 parishioners as well as dozens of residents from St. Coletta of Wisconsin -- who provides housing and programs to people with developmental disabilities -- who attend Mass at St. John the Baptist.

Making it happen

The committee contacted the Diocese of Madison earlier this year.

The diocese strongly encouraged additional resources including a general contractor to oversee the project.

With funds via a generous grant from the Apostolate for Persons with Disabilities and from the parish, the project got underway in June of this year.

The goal was for most of the project to be finished in early August, just in time for the St. Coletta Family Weekend Mass, in which many of its residents and their family members would be in attendance.

The first part of the project completed was a widening of the sidewalks to the church from the parking lot as well as a modified ramp from the parking lot.

There is now ample room for wheelchairs as well as for people walking next to them.

The centerpiece of the project was an extended vestibule area, covering a space that was open air between the church and school building and now houses a wheelchair ramp.

The extension increases access from the parking lot as well as providing a ramp to the school.

The entire drainage system was also revamped to fix water issues, including some getting into parish buildings.

The project is nearing final completion with new railings to be installed and up to code.

The new sidewalks and ramps were installed in time for the St. Coletta’s event, which showed off the fruits of everyone’s labor.

The ramp to the school was also finished in time for the new school year.

“This has taken us to the next level of accessibility,” said Donley.

Future phases for accessibility will include making the school bathroom more handicapped accessible, increased accessibility to the school gym, and installing an elevator.

“We are grateful to Bishop [Robert C.] Morlino for his approval of the grant. It will assist the parish to better serve the spiritual lives of our parishioners with disabilities,” said Pastor Fr. Tom Coyle.

“Also, we remember in prayer Msgr. Tom Campion (late director of the Apostolate) whose financial planning and insight enable the Apostolate for Persons with Disabilities to make such grants available.”

For more information on St. John the Baptist Church and St. Francis of Assisi Parish, go to

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