St. Mary Parish, Appleton, WI

St. Mary Parish, located in Appleton, Wis., is a Catholic faith community of more than 3,000 members. Founded in 1859, the parish has more than 100 ministries dedicated to meeting the spiritual needs of parishioners and the community.

In 2014, Catholic Central Elementary School, located across from the church, merged into another campus within the Xavier Catholic School system. While the parish was still thriving, some in the community wondered what the school closing meant for the future of the church.

At the same time, St. Mary’s leadership started to discuss replacing its aging sign, a 15-foot manual reader board that had outlived its usable life. The sign, located on a main thoroughfare, didn’t convey the image St. Mary’s wanted and was difficult to keep updated.

“Our old sign looked tired and it took a lot of time to manually change the message, which was complicated further by the conditions of our cold Wisconsin winters,” said Brian Dresang, business administrator at St. Mary Parish. “With a new sign we had the opportunity to grab the attention of those driving by, to say ‘we’re still here’ and establish a new way to communicate with our parishioners and the community.”

St. Mary Parish worked with Creative Sign Company of De Pere, Wis., which designed a 22-foot by 14-foot custom sign featuring a cross with color changing accent lighting and a full color Watchfire message center.

“I specify Watchfire signs whenever possible because they are made so well,” said Kelli Lax, senior design consultant at Creative Sign Company. “In addition, Watchfire’s customer service is phenomenal. Downtime is very rare, but if service is needed, parts are shipped the same day. In my opinion, Watchfire is the best in the industry.”

While the old reader board was changed weekly—or less frequently—St. Mary’s new sign can run a variety of messages that can be updated in just minutes from the comfort of the business office. The parish now uses the sign to promote events, announce weddings, congratulate parishioners on achievements and post mass times. They also use the sign to convey community service messages.

While it’s difficult to measure the impact the sign has had on the parish, Dresang says he knows it’s work-ing. “Since the new sign was constructed, I have received numerous calls from business owners in the area complimenting us on the sign and asking where we got it. Our parishioners also have good things to say about it. To me there is no bigger compliment,” said Dresang.

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