Dan Fannin was ready to recruit volunteers from St. John Bosco Catholic Church in Lakewood to help build a house when his pastor stopped him one Sunday after Mass a year ago.
Fannin thought the church would just provide workers to a larger Habitat for Humanity effort. The Rev. Lee Hightower thought bigger.
Theres absolutely no reason why this parish cant build a house, Hightower told him.
OK, Fannin said.
He didnt fully realize what his church was committing to do. I had no clue what was involved, Fannin said last week.
Besides supplying enough volunteers, the church would have to raise $65,000 for the cost of materials for the five-bedroom, 1,200-square-foot house in the Tillicum neighborhood.
What seemed like an ambitious goal has now transformed into a labor of love to honor Hightower, 77, who became ill and retired as St. John Boscos pastor in July.
We were just going to build a house, Fannin said. But as he became ill, we said, Why dont we honor this priest who has done so much for the parish? It was his idea to start the house in the beginning.
St. John Bosco is the first congregation to raise all the money for one house and build it in the 27-year history of Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat for Humanity, said Sue Potter, Habitats director of development.
The structure is called the St. John Bosco/Father Hightower/Habitat House.
Its a real tribute to how much this parish loves this man, Potter said.
Hightower was the pastor of St. John Bosco and Immaculate Conception mission in Steilacoom for 10 years, leading from 2002 until this summer. Before that, he was a chaplain for 11 years at Fort Lewis, now Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
This man is known far and wide and held in such high esteem, said Fannin, who is retired from the U.S. Air Force. Theres soldiers all over this planet that have been affected positively by Father Hightower.
Standing tall at 6 foot 3, Hightower is remembered for the first words he would deliver at church services: a booming Good morning.
That voice has been virtually silenced by a form of palsy, a neurological disorder, said Brian Guillot, a pastoral assistant at the parish.
Its difficult for Hightower to talk and for people to understand him, Guillot said. Hightower also struggles to write legibly, Fannin said.
Fannin drove him back to the parish house in late August after a team of 18 volunteers from St. John Bosco raised the walls of the Habitat house.
One after another, parishioners spoke privately with Hightower at the site about how much he has meant to them, Fannin said.
On the way home, Fannin asked the priest: Did we wear you out?
He put a thumb down, which I think means no, Fannin said. military parish
Hightowers illness developed over the past 18 months or so, Guillot said.
Everybody was hoping that he would get better and come back to his original strength, Fannin said.
The priest has not been physically able to lead services since Easter.
Since May, the parish has raised $45,158 toward the three-year fundraising goal of $65,000. More than 250 people have donated money.
If it hadnt been to honor Father Hightower, I dont believe we would be where were at today, said Fannin, 69, who is spearheading the project for the 900-family parish.
Fannin said he never dreamed of the parish taking on an entire house until Hightower issued the challenge.
Were a military parish, said Fannin, noting that St. John Boscos pews are filled with both retired and active-duty members of the armed forces. When the boss says Take that hill, you start figuring out how to take that hill.
The wood-frame house at 14427 Washington Ave. in Lakewood is rising up in the shade of a grove of oak trees. Teams of volunteers from the church at 10508 112th St. SW are working every other weekend on the house.
Habitat sells homes at no profit with no interest to people with low incomes. Each family must work a total of 500 hours on its own or other Habitat homes.
Habitat is working on lining up a family to live in the home, which is scheduled to be completed by early December.
The Christian-based housing ministry is building 30 houses throughout Tillicum, a low-income neighborhood. Three are finished; two are under construction. Theyll all be done in another three years, Potter said.
Jo Ellen Vanatta hammered nails into wood sheeting at the house Thursday.
Vanatta said shes volunteering to honor Hightower and give back to the community.
She said she knew Hightower before she joined the parish when he was a chaplain and she was chief nurse at Madigan Army Medical Center.
Hes been able to relate so well to his parish, said Vanatta, 66. I think its a gift.
Hightower was an Army chaplain for 20 years, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. Before that, he was a French professor and dean of students at Carroll College in Montana, where he was raised. Hes been a priest for 51 years.
Parishioners remember his jokes corny at times, thought-provoking at others and often about his affection for Montana, Fannin said. His homilies included homework assignments to carry faith beyond the Eucharist, Fannin said. Some were to read a Bible passage, others were a call to do something for someone else.
He would encourage people to get out and put your faith into action, said Fannin, a member of St. John Bosco for 28 years.
The parishs new pastor is the Rev. Peter Mactutis, who also is pastor of St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church in Lakewood.
St. John Bosco parishioners recently mourned the passing of one of their former pastors, also a military chaplain. The Rev. Ralph Carney died Aug. 26 at age 89. Carney was priest administrator from 1993-99 at St. John Bosco. healing hands
Hightower ushered the parish through one of the most trying transitions in its 44-year history.
He was assigned pastor of St. John Bosco a few weeks after the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle announced in May 2002 that it had accepted the resignation of the Rev. Dennis V. Champagne, St. John Boscos pastor for the previous three years, over an allegation that Champagne molested a boy in 1979 at a Snohomish parish.
The resignation occurred at the height of the nationwide clergy sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church and fragmented the parish. In 2006, Champagne was permanently banned from public ministry, the archdiocese announced. His case was somewhat unusual in that he had a single accuser.
Some credit Hightower with bringing about healing in the parish. And 10 years later, parishioners are honoring Hightower with a house to help a family in need.
Fannin said he believes Hightower really appreciates the expression of love associated with this.
Im not sure he fully appreciated how well he was thought of, Fannin said.
For more information on St. John Bosco Catholic Church’s home-building project, visit http://habitatsjb.com.