Valentine’s Day weekend is an occasion where people spend time with their loved ones. Yet this year, the Syracuse community gathered together to spend the day before Valentine’s Day in a church that they hold near and dear to their hearts.

Upon arrival, it seemed as if most of the town was inside of the St. Paulinus Catholic Church’s new parish hall for the church’s Second-Annual Grand Slam Gala & Auction fundraising event Feb. 13.

Kelly Morrissey, who served on the Steering Committee with Deb McWilliams and Mary Kreifels, said the new addition was brimming with about 240 people and over 100 volunteers dressed up in their favorite baseball attire. Even St. Paulinus Catholic Church Pastor Jerel Scholl showed his New York Yankees support.

“We decided we wanted to do a more casual event this year and thought it would be fun to do a ‘summer theme’ to break up the cold winter months,” Morrissey said. “A sports theme was suggested and we decided to go with an All-American Baseball theme.”

Scholl said the fundraiser was to assist with the $1.5 million construction costs of the new parish hall, which Morrissey said was completed in the spring of 2015. Scholl added the construction debt remaining for the new addition is slightly over $600,000.

“This gala brings many generations of our parish and community together for a common goal,” Morrissey said.

The church’s $2,500 construction began in 1905 and the church was dedicated in 1906.

Morrissey said the church’s facilities were not large enough to host the growing parish and community. The addition of the parish hall allows the church to have more room to host youth Catholic education programs, parish events and stimulates more growth as a congregation.

“(It) will be used for multiple social gatherings, including fish fries, funerals and parish functions,” Morrissey said. “As our parishioners from the past worked to establish what we have today, we need to ensure that our facilities are continued to be cared for and enhanced to benefit parishioners today and into the future.”

The evening began with mass at 4:30 p.m. and ended with the raffle drawings. Andrew Pietzyk of Cook took home the grand prize raffle item of a seven-night stay in Cancun, Mexico, or Orlando, Fla., plus $1,000 toward flight expenses. Scott Johnson of Ashland won the first-prize raffle drawing of $1,000 in cash. Doug Magill of Syracuse won the second-prize $500 cash drawing. JoDee Paulsen of Syracuse also won the third-prize cash drawing prize of $250.

Tables packed with 129 sports, toys, home decoration, outdoors, tools, night-out, night-in and kitchen silent auction items stretched around the room for people to do their bidding before sitting down to a savory barbecue buffet dinner. People feasted on baseball game concessions of popcorn and nachos and mingled near the bar.

Attendees were allowed to purchase $2 envelopes for the “‘Batter Up’! Secret Envelope” game, where 100 envelopes were sold with only a dozen including a prize. Another game was called the “7th Inning Stretch: Heads or Tails” where people could purchase $10 beaded necklaces to play the heads or tails game. Lori Starzec of Syracuse was the last person standing and won half of the total pot.

“ … The church was very blessed by having some of the evening’s winnings donated back to the church,” Morrissey said.

Ten live auction items, including Blake Shelton concert tickets a 30-minute ride in a World War II P-51 Mustang aircraft and a Mall of America package, were auctioned later in the evening. Knights of Columbus Council No. 7614 field agent John Soukup of Lincoln was the master of ceremonies for the evening.

Scholl was impressed with the evening’s turnout.

“Tonight has been fantastic,” he said as people were lining up for dinner. “We have a ton of people. We had a ton of people at mass, a ton of people walking all over the place. I’ve never experienced that before. People are just so joyful and they’re all wearing their hat to support a different (baseball) team.

“People are being very generous. I couldn’t be more pleased,” he added. “It’s been so, so much fun. I just can’t wait to find out what the rest of the night is going to be, but I’m just so, so thankful about all of the people that have come here.”

Morrissey said volunteers worked on many different committees to assist with coordinating registration, the auctions, decorations, cashiering, the raffles, refreshments, food, the program’s design and social media advertising. She added that the planning for the gala had begun in August 2015.

Morrissey said the church also recently constructed youth Catholic education classrooms in the basement and purchased partitions for them. The church is in the process of planning for future renovations as well.

Even though the total money raised at the gala hasn’t been totaled yet, Morrissey was impressed with how many people, including the volunteers, showed up to show their support for the church.  

“The evening was very successful with everyone having a great time,” she said.