By S.L. Hansen
ABIE (SNR) - When cracks appeared in the ceiling and walls of Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Abie, Father Ronald Homes, pastor for the last 11 years, decided it would be a good time to bring it back to its original Gothic splendor.
“Just like the tradition of a lot of villages around Italy, the grandest building in the whole town was the church, because that’s God’s house,” Father Homes reasoned. “This is our way of saying God is important to this community, and we’re going to give Him the best.”
So, last January, he celebrated the last Mass to be held in that parish for some months, and work was begun on the circa 1918 church. The 68 or so Catholic households in Abie now journey 4 miles to Bruno for Mass at Father Homes’ other parish, St. Anthony.
Meanwhile, Father Homes and a committee of about a dozen parishioners have been planning and overseeing the renovation.
“We found some old pictures, so one of the starting points [in the renovation plans] was what the church looked like when it was first built,” Father Homes said.
The goal is to restore the church, but within reason. Modern lighting, sound, electrical and fire safety systems are prudent, for example, but there are other considerations as well.
“We don’t need the pulpit halfway down the aisle any more because we have a P.A. system,” Father Homes noted.
Another factor in choosing what renovations would be done is cost.
“We’re doing it very economically,” Father Homes said.
To get the project started, the parish tapped into their healthy savings account, built up by years of faithful giving.
“We hope that the momentum will take place, and we’ll have the funds to finish it,” Father Homes said. “We’re trying to do whatever we can to save money.”
One cost-saver was using Cornhusker State Industries (CSI) to refinish the well-worn pews. CSI has also handled pew refinishing for St. Anthony Parish in Steinauer and the Marian Sisters’ chapel in Waverly. The company is also producing new pew ends for Holy Trinity Parish in Brainard that are replicas of the originals.
CSI is a unique and economical choice because it employs prisoners from the state, giving them an opportunity to develop marketable skills that they can use to gain employment after release. The inmates labor in a realistic work environment while earning the standard local wage for similar work. Meanwhile, non-profit organizations – such as Catholic parishes – gain quality craftsmanship at a reasonable cost.
Another cost-saving measure is allowing the workers to fit this project in between more lucrative contracts.
The main contractors also happen to be parishioners. Paul Augustine, who specializes in construction, moved into the parish a few years ago with his wife Denise, an interior designer/artist who trained in Florence, Italy.
“Our renovation plan was conceived in 2011, and as we moved on with the project and I discovered their talents, it morphed into them doing the job,” Father Homes explained.
The priest has also been an integral part of the process.
“I am kind of a do-it-yourselfer,” he admitted.
Father Homes and Mr. Augustine have proven to be a good team. For example, when they were planning the duct work for the updated heating and air conditioning system, they each independently came up with the same plan, which has been approved by the HVAC subcontractor.
While Mr. Augustine works on the walls, ceilings and floor – which will have to be replaced as the original hardwood was used as subflooring some decades ago – Mrs. Augustine is repainting the altars.
The parish is fortunate to have retained the beautiful old high altar and matching side altars. However, when whitewashed altars were all the rage a half century or so ago, the original wood – with its accents of real gold leaf – was obliterated with paint.
“There’s no way of undoing that,” Father Homes sighed.
So, he and his committee decided to take advantage of Mrs. Augustine’s faux marble skills. When she’s done, the altars will look as though they were built out of different kinds of marble, in the European style. She is already at work on the side altars.
“You have to touch it to see that it’s not marble,” Father Homes said.
Another project on Mrs. Augustine’s agenda is painting a pair of angels in the niches where the side altars will be returned. These will be original pieces of art, not replicas.
Other projects range from replacing the frames that once existed on the stations of the cross, refinishing the confessional and adding some sound-proofing and updating the P.A. system with hidden speakers.
With all this going on – and his own experience with construction delays – Father Homes is hesitant to plan for the church’s rededication.
“This is construction. If you think you’re going to get it done on time, you won’t,” he insisted. “I’m not going to pick a time until we can see light at the end of the tunnel.”
Father Homes is eager – but patient – for the project to be end. He wants it to be done right.
“We’re all living in nice houses, he said. “We should give God the best.”