Diocesan News

Generosity, returned items beautify Steinauer renovation

 GATE TO HEAVEN - The “Gate to Heaven Restoration” was recently completed at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Steinauer. Bishop James Conley will rededicate the church at a special Mass Oct. 5, and a celebratory dinner will follow. (Courtesy photo)

(SNR) - Parishioners at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Steinauer are deep into preparations for the dedication of their newly renovated church on Saturday, Oct. 5. Bishop James Conley will celebrate the special Mass along with other priests, and a celebratory dinner will follow.

The extensive restoration project started out as necessary repairs.

"Some plaster was falling, and we had leaks, and we had to do something," explained Fran Herrick, who has been part of the parish for her entire life.

"When you have to plaster a lot of places in a church, then of course you have to repaint," she continued. "And then the question is what color, what details do you want?"

With a laugh, she added, "Like with any remodeling, you don’t know where to quit, so we just went whole hog."

Many people were keen to "undo" some of the 1962 renovation that had modernized the interior of the Italian Romanesque church. At that time, the communion rails, high altar and side altars were removed and the walls were whitewashed.

Father Scott Courtney, pastor, convened a committee representing the diverse ages and opinions of the parish. Committee members met for a number of marathon planning sessions to discuss the possibilities.

The committee also toured Holy Trinity in Brainard, St. John Nepomucene in Weston and St. Wenceslaus in Bee. All three churches underwent renovations in recent years, using the designs of Father Jamie Hottovy and the construction and painting skills of Gene and Char Kriz – the same team tapped for St. Anthony of Padua’s restoration.

Father Courtney named the project, "The Gate to Heaven Restoration," because the church functions as a gate to Heaven through the Mass, drawing people ever closer to Christ.

That’s about the time the miracles started to happen.

Father Courtney made some personal visits to several people in the parish to ask for their support. Within 10 days, he had received $340,000, more than half of the total price of the renovation project.

"That was our ticket to knowing we were supposed to do this," he said.

Gifts large and small poured in. An elderly parishioner on a fixed income scraped together $150 for the renovation. A third-grader contributed the $100 her grandmother had sent her for Christmas.

In fact, so much money was raised, Father Courtney expects to have the entire renovation paid off in just a few more months.

"We’re very close to our goal, which is unbelievable with only 125 families in our parish," he said.

But money wasn’t the only miracle.

Back in 1962, parishioner Omar Kalin happened to stop into the parish on the day men armed with sledgehammers were breaking up the altars. Mr. Kalin managed to save the painting of the Last Supper that had fronted the Altar of Sacrifice, stashing it in the side sacristy for safekeeping… or so he thought.

Unfortunately, the painting disappeared and remained lost for nearly 30 years until it turned up in the Table Rock Historical Society Museum.

Sometime after Father Courtney had the funeral Mass for the sister of the historical society’s president, his niece approached him about returning the Last Supper to the church. The painting has now been reinstalled on the new Altar of Sacrifice designed by Father Hottovy and paid for by the family of the late Father Lawrence Ghyra, who grew up in Steinauer.

To keep costs low, Father Courtney asked a friend from Hastings to build the new side altars, and the man donated both labor and materials, a $12,600 gift. The original side altar candlesticks that had been auctioned off to local families long ago were returned.

The item most cherished is the church’s original marble communion rails and end-caps, which were returned to the church after they were found stashed in a closet.

For Mrs. Herrick, kneeling at the same rails where her parents and grandparents knelt to receive the Holy Eucharist is an indescribable experience.

"It is beautiful," she said, her voice filling with emotion.

"It is so easy to pray in here," Mrs. Herrick continued. "On our sacrificial altar, the Last Supper is permanently lit, and then there is a light on the tabernacle.... You can walk in at night and those are lit up, and it just gives you goose bumps."

Father Courtney said, "I feel like a newly ordained priest…It’s really amazing."

Already, the renewed beauty of St. Anthony of Padua parish is drawing more people to its doors. A cancer patient who is not Catholic and not even from Steinauer visits regularly to pray. A group of Protestants stopped at the church during a recent poker run, and Mrs. Herrick helped give them tours.

"All these things are totally God," Father Courtney said. "We live in a culture that says God doesn’t exist, and God doesn’t speak, but God speaks so clearly and loudly in Steinauer, it’s unbelievable! People should just come and see."

All are invited to visit St. Anthony Parish to see the renovations. Anyone who is interested in attending the dedication Mass and dinner on Oct. 5 may call the parish at (402) 869-2256 for more information

St. Anthony of Padua Church in Steinauer:

Evangelization in Architecture

By Fr. Jamie Hottovy

(STEINAUER) - Driving through the rolling hills of Pawnee County and approaching Steinauer, one is struck by the majestic, Italian Romanesque church that pierces the tree line.

The towering, brick-detailed façade proclaims to the world that this is "the House of God and the Gate of Heaven" (Genesis 28:17). A new Chi-Rho monogram of Christ embedded in the front pavement declares to the public sphere that this is consecrated ground.

The existing classical details of the church, as well as the newly added elements of the restoration, point to St. Anthony of Padua as patron of the parish. He is considered one of the greatest Franciscan saints: a brilliant theologian, an effective preacher, and a Doctor of the Church. The intention of this restoration was fourfold: to enhance and highlight the existing Romanesque architectural detail; to incorporate traditional symbols, images, inscriptions and colors that convey the sacred language of the Church; to catechize and evangelize the faithful and all who enter, through timeless beauty and drama; to cultivate an appreciation and devotion to St. Anthony through the design of this sacred space.

The walls of the narthex are finished with an aged Italian plaster to evoke the lands of St. Anthony’s time and place. The subtle Tau Cross motif signifies his membership in the religious order that was founded by St. Francis of Assisi.

The acanthus leaf (a plant found in the Mediterranean) and vine embellishment reveals a renewed Garden of Eden. These stylized plants also echo the Biblical language of Christ, who referred to Himself as "the Vine." New, Old-World chandeliers hang by chains that resemble the beads of a rosary.

Above the threshold to the nave, the inscription "How lovely is Your dwelling place, Lord God of Hosts" (Psalm 84:1), reiterates that this church is the meeting place of heaven and earth, where, at every Mass, heaven breaks down into earth and earth is taken up into heaven. The color palette of the interior of the church incorporates warm Italianate colors that recall St. Anthony’s evangelization of the Italian people. Rich brown tones are reminiscent of the color of the Franciscan habit that he wore throughout his life.

The ribs of the barrel-vaulted ceiling are embellished with an acanthus leaf motif that alternates with gold fleur-de-leis. Throughout the centuries, the fleur-de-leis has often pointed to Mary (as the lily signifies her purity), but it has also been a symbol of the Holy Trinity (the three petals represent the Trinity), and is also understood as an emblem of Christ’s resurrection (as it looks like a stylized lily). This detail is oriented vertically to draw the eyes, minds, and hearts of the faithful to heaven and eternal realities.

Four new paintings of the evangelists, by Corbert Gauthier, were commissioned for this restoration. In the painting of St. Matthew, he is pictured with a winged man holding a candle because this gospel opens with the human genealogy of Christ. The light emanating from the candle represents the radiance of the gospel spreading throughout the world. St. Matthew holds a scroll that is illuminated with the Star of David and the Cross, illustrating his gospel as one that bridges the Old and New Testaments.

The image of St. Mark is traditionally associated with the lion. In the opening chapter of the gospel, St. John the Baptist is described as one crying out in the wilderness, like a lion roaring as king of the desert. The regal lion in this depiction has a beard that echoes that of St. Mark’s. The evangelist is portrayed as a Jewish rabbi since the central audience of his gospel is directed to the Jewish people. The ancient oil lamp produces a flame that illuminates the Old Law and unifies it with the New Law of Christ.

The portrayal of St. Luke alludes to the primary group for whom his gospel was written: Greek-speaking audiences. The backdrop depicts a Greek-styled frieze with an image of an ox. The second chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel tells of Christ’s infancy in the temple with the High Priest, and the ox – an animal sacrificed in the temple – came to be associated with Christ’s own sacrifice. St. Luke relates the most details about Mary, the mother of Jesus, so he wears a brooch with an "M" monogram. His gaze is fixed on the stained-glass window depicting the Annunciation, an event that he recounts in his gospel.

The eagle symbolizes St. John, the gospel writer who wrote of the lofty heights of Jesus’ divinity. In this representation, an eagle soars toward the sun. St. John’s Gospel is seen as radiating the light of divine knowledge. Chapter six contains the Bread of Life discourse, which lays out the foundation of the theology of the Eucharist. Therefore, St. John has in the foreground the elements of the Eucharist, as he himself looks intently on the altar in the sanctuary.

The apse is framed by a grand arch imbued with warm yellows, golds, and tans. Medallions, raised panels, and Italianate details were finished in rich bronzes, coppers, and golds. This was done in order to further embellish the classical architecture of the sanctuary and to draw attention to the most important part of the church. These elements – with their stylized foliage, beads and vases – speak of the importance of entering an architectural vision of a restored Garden of Eden.

Additionally, these details indicate the sacrificial festivity of Christian worship. The three detailed panels in the upper arch symbolize the Holy Trinity, while the eight medallions signify the "eighth day," the time after the Bible’s seven days of creation. Thus, the number eight stands for eternity and perfection.

Emerging from the apex of the apse is a hand-carved, three-dimensional dove surrounded by rays gilded in 22-karat gold leaf. It elicits the Holy Spirit’s descent on the Eucharistic Sacrifice during the epiclesis at Mass. In the frieze, the Latin inscription, "Hic Domus Deus est et Porta Caeli," which means, "The House of God and the Gate of Heaven" (Genesis 28:17) has been restored.

Below this phrase are seven shields with symbols of Christ and St. Anthony. The Greek letters Alpha, Omega and Chi-Rho refer to Jesus. The bread, grapes, Chalice, and Blessed Sacrament recall the Eucharist and the priesthood of Christ, within which St. Anthony shared. The Bible calls to mind the foundation of St. Anthony’s effective preaching, while the Cross and Crown convey that, through his sacrifices in life, he now shares in the kingdom of Christ.

Twelve onyx marble crosses are embedded in the steps leading up to the sanctuary signifying that the Church is built upon the foundation of the twelve apostles. New custom-made altar, ambo, communion rail, and side altars were built for the sanctuary and were finished to emulate Carrara marble, patterned after the existing Daprato high altar.

The new altar of sacrifice incorporates the Last Supper piece from the original high altar. Marble from the original communion rail was integrated into the new rail; human fingerprints of parish forefathers are still visible in the marble and are a tangible reminder of the continuity of faith being passed down from generation to generation.

Leaving the church, one catches sight of the passage from the Gospel of St. John 13:34: "Love one another as I have loved you." We are given this evangelical challenge by Christ, that as we experienced the immense love of Him in the Mass, we should now show that same love to others as we go out into the world.

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