Saturday, May 17, 2008

What I Do in My Spare Time

About five years ago at the request of a priest who knew I was in construction, I visited St. Paisius Monastery to help build a laundry facility for the Sisters. We finished it over the course of two months of weekends and dubbed it "Hagia Laundria", which made the Sisters laugh, which is a no-no. They asked me if I would consider helping them with their next building project, a room addition for more bedrooms for the Sisters who had been living in 4 by 8 foot un-airconditioned "sketes" (sheds) around the property. I agreed. They handed me a drawing of the floor plan drawn by a volunteer architect. There were no architectural or structural specs, no blueprints, no electrical, plumbing or mechanical plans. Over the next year of weekends I worked and coordinated an ever dwindling crew of volunteers and local contractors who filled in when we couldn't find someone who could donate time and materials, and we played it by ear, making up every detail as we went. We took the roof off the garage, gutted the garage and breezeway, then added a second story, 8 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms a foyer and a workshop/office area. These are a few pictures of the construction.

Here we have removed the roof of the garage and I'm showing Mother Abbess Michaila how to use a framing nailer to make floor joists.

This is the front of the garage, the roof is gone, the floor is framed, and the walls are going up.

This is Sister Anastasia, who is meek, all of 5'5" and 100 lbs WITH a 300 knot prayer rope in her hand (of course its hard to guess exactly with them in habits...) driving the SkyTrak putting the trusses on the roof with precision. The framing carpenters were quite humbled and impressed to say the least.
This is our "roof celebration" when the last truss was set.

This is me framing and sheetrocking the apse windows in the Sister's rooms.

This is the finished building.

But that's all done. I went to the Monastery this past week to begin the interior work on the new Church. For the past two years they have been putting up walls and recently started the roof structure. I'll be doing the interior design and building the domes, ceilings, arches and apses. (Again, with no blueprints. ) This is the interior of the Church.

These are some pictures of the work I started this past week in the two small side chapels. This is the existing roof structure with the altar apse in the front. I'm going to frame an arched ceiling under the steel trusses. You can see the shape of the ceiling we finally landed on after 3 hours of trial and error on the front wall.
This is Sister Anastasia again, standing steel studs in the apse framing for me.

This is the partially finished ceiling structure. The radius track is up, all the dimensions are calculated and I will leave filling in the dozens of studs for the Sisters to complete over the week I am gone.

I know there are people all over the world who would love to have the privilege of doing something like this. It is quite humbling to be able to participate in building a monastery and a Church, to say the least. At the end of a 12-14 hour day there is a deep peace in the exhaustion of the flesh. And God willing my flesh will last long enough to finish the project; and at the end of it all my funeral will be in this Church and I'll be buried in the Monastery cemetery where Mother Abbess said my grave will be tended by the grateful Sisters until Jesus comes again. What more can one ask?


Philippa said...

That Sister Anastasia is some nun! Wow! I am very impressed.

I wish I lived close to you so I could help out but I can't even hammer a nail straight.

A truly blessed place s-p. And you are a good man to serve in such a way!

Elizabeth said...

It looks enormously hard work.

What a blessing for the Sisters to have you make this possible for them, and what a blessing for you to be able to do it.

God grant you and the good sisters MANY YEARS, dear s-p !

James the Thickheaded said...


Thanks for this. Your experience and gift gives insight into the mind of those faithful men and women who laid stones across so many churches across so many centuries. What a two-fold blessing.

David Bryan said...

Well, no wonder OLiC podcasts have been so sporadic over the past year or so. And what a worthy reason for said semi-silence.

What a wonderful endeavor, and what excellent craftmanship, sir. Hat's off to ya'.

s-p said...

Hi David,
Wellll...I wish that was the excuse, but its not. I managed to do a weekly live broadcast on KPXQ during part of the building of the dormitory building. Unfortunately there's more to my life (and Bill's) than we can navigate sometimes. It is by the grace of God and the patience of my wife and kids that my work/life schedule permits me to be gone so much to do things like this (and the radio show). Mother Abbess says my wife is more of a saint than I (duh...) for letting me be there so much. She may not be married, but she hears wives confessions about their husbands LOL! I've often wondered why my desires for ministry have been thwarted for 35 years and why I've been "condemned" to do construction for a living after years of college education. If this was part of the big picture (of course I could say "no" to the opportunity), then I thank God. To be in a place and time to do such a work and to have the skills to do this work is an absolute gift. I wish more people could come for a week and carry studs, pound nails or even sweep the floors. It is ALL important to the process. Anyway, thanks for the "slack" regarding the program. :)

Fr. James Early said...


What a wonderful ministry you have to the nuns. May God bless you and grant you many years for what you have done for the monastery.

BTW, why not record a brief OLIC podcast making a special appeal for volunteers? I bet there are plenty of people who would be willing and able to help, but who may also not know about the project.

T said...

You're the man!

julie said...

Hey Steve,

I have a pine coffee table and matching sofa table that I am not using. Do the sisters need furniture? Julie (from STJEOM)

Dimmer said...

May God Bless your work Steve!