Story by Reagan Scott
ST. MARY (SNR) - This year, parishioners at Saint Mary Church in the town of Saint Mary were able to celebrate Christmas in their newly renovated sanctuary. The renovations, which began on January 7, 2018, are nearly complete.
When Father Craig Clinch, the pastor of Saint Mary and Saint Andrew in Tecumseh, arrived in 2015, plaster repair work was being done on the walls. This renovation work led to conversations between Father Clinch and the parish regarding the restoration of the church.
“We wanted to re-do the interior and make it more beautiful,” Father Clinch said.
Related: Slideshow of photos
Terry Kerr, a parishioner in the parish, said that the church had a more modern look to it before the renovation started.
Inspiration for a more traditional look came from photos of the church in 1947, when the current church was built, and “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” the constitution on the sacred liturgy of the Second Vatican Council.
In number 122 of the document, it is written, “The sacred arts are oriented toward the infinite beauty of God which they attempt in some way to portray by the work of human hands; they achieve their purpose of redounding to God’s praise and glory in proportion as they are directed the more exclusively to the single aim of turning men’s minds devoutly toward God.”
Father Clinch said that this and passage 88 were helpful in determining the direction they wanted to go, using the beauty of the church to lift souls to God.
Father Clinch also shared that Paul and Denise Augustyn, who were hired to oversee the project, drew inspiration from photos of churches in Poland due to the parish’s Polish heritage. Father Clinch is grateful to them for sharing their artistic and engineering talents.
After work began last January, Masses were celebrated in the basement of the church. In that time, a completely new floor and ceiling were installed in the church, and the current pews were sanded and re-stained. The kneelers also received new cushions.
At the front of the church, the side and high altars were restored, and a new communion rail was added.
The work to be completed includes the upper half of the high altar where the crucifix will be placed, installing a new ambo and doors from the vestibule to the nave. The statue stands and baptismal font will also be refurbished.
Kerr said the parish hopes to see the work in the sanctuary completed by an upcoming wedding Jan. 25.
The first Mass in the new space was celebrated Sunday, Dec. 9. On that day, Bishop James Conley came to dedicate the new altar and administer Confirmation.
“It’s not very common to have both events in a Mass,” Father Clinch said, “but it was beautiful. Being there was really special.”
In a letter that he wrote to Father Clinch following the event, Bishop Conley wrote, “The restoration is a stunningly beautiful accomplishment. I know it has taken a lot of extra time, but good things are always worth the wait. People will be drawn closer to God through the beauty of Saint Mary’s for decades to come.”
This great undertaking couldn’t have been completed without the help of the parish community. Kerr said that parishioners have contributed almost 7,000 volunteer hours to the restoration efforts since the start of the project.
“Our parishioners were able to help complete a lot of the tasks,” she said. “It entailed so much more than we ever imagined because we had so many talented volunteers.”
Some of the most time-consuming projects included completing medallions for the ceiling, and trim for the stained-glass windows, floor and doors.
Completing the medallions involved applying paints, glazes and waxes. It took 10 parishioners 15 to 18 hours to complete 13 of them. The molds for the window trim, floor trim and door trim where hand-poured and took months to complete.
After all of the hard work put in, Kerr said that getting to celebrate the Christmas season in the new space made it that much more special. “It was a blessing for us. Sitting in the sanctuary was like sitting in a higher form of praise.”