As We Build This House

December 22, 2011

Food for Thought

Sharon and "the guys"

I recently had an opportunity to work on the House of Gratitude project at Divine Mercy parish in Faribault. The project, a Habitat for Humanity style project, is a home for our priests, a new rectory that will be situated near the new parish. The occasion for me to help at the house came after I had volunteered my husband to be a site host. A site host would be someone who would arrange coffee and make sure lunch was ready for the workers, but they are also the person on call to run to the hardware store or grab a tool for the workers. Having no building experience myself and barely knowing the difference between a Phillips and a flat head screwdriver, I thought that job might better suit my husband. It came to my attention that they were in need of site hosts and my husband was unavailable. Hesitantly I offered my “fiat” when asked if I would be interested.

This invitation came to me at a time when I was feeling unsure of myself, unsure of my abilities and unsure of my own value and not just in construction matters. In my work I find myself constantly reminding others of the inherent worth of every human being, but for myself I had started feeling deflated in my own abilities and lacked seeing my actual worth. I was beginning to loose sight of the fact that I too was made in God’s likeness.

My first day at the House of Gratitude introduced me to Bill Sartor. Bill has been working on “Habitat” houses for years and I was  blessed to meet him. His welcoming and friendly manner immediately put me at ease. Leading the opening prayer and signing in the volunteers were my first duties, but pretty soon I was looking for things to do.
Under Bill’s guidance and the others’ encouragement I started helping with the skilled labor. At first I was holding two by fours while one of the seasoned workers made a cut. In no time at all I was helping to build window bucks. (And now I actually know what a window buck is!) Whenever I was standing around looking for something to do, Bill would give me a quick tutorial on a task. Before you knew it I was using a drill, setting up scaffolding and actually helping others  put up the supports for the walls!

In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he speaks of the “authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for tearing you down.” (2 Corinthians 10:8) I realized that was what Bill and the others at the house were doing – they were building me up along with the house. Little by little, step by step I gained confidence and ability.

Encouragement is an amazing thing. So often I think we forget how much it means to each other. I often find myself encouraging my children, but I forget that it is needed for us adults too. Encouragement in prayer, encouragement in living a Catholic lifestyle, encouragement by letting others know that they are loved.
Later I met with a friend who had seen me on the day I was working on the House of Gratitude. He commented that I looked so free, relaxed and happy. I can’t quite explain why I had this feeling or why it was visible to others, after all I had just spent an entire day outside in very cold weather doing manual labor, but it felt better than a day at the spa!
Others who have helped with this task have mentioned the same feeling – there is something indescribable about it.

There is something other than a house being built here; as we worked on this house – God was working on us.

In the prayer that is recited at the house before work begins it states “As we build this House of Gratitude, may we all as one body turn our hearts more fully to You and receive from You the glorious vision of Your heavenly kingdom, our true home.”

I won’t be quitting my day job, as they say, to take up construction work, but I will remember that it is my job to help build up the community of believers by offering encouragement and with the encouragement of others I will continue to look for my true home.

Read more about the House of Gratitude in the December 22nd, 2011 issue of the Catholic Spirit.

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About Sharon O'Connell-Wilson

I am a wife to my husband Dave and mother to my children Courtney and Gabe. I have a degree in education and have worked as a teacher, in advertising, radio, retail buyer and in youth advocacy – I even rode an elephant in the circus once! I am a “cradle” Catholic who didn’t really know my faith until my adulthood. On fire with my faith and love for God I dove into parish life at Divine Mercy Catholic Church in Faribault, Minnesota. Once I dove in, I began to realized I needed to learn how to swim! Patient priests and friends as well as the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute helped me to learn the strokes. I love talking about my faith and learning more about the great gift of being Catholic. Find me at

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