Photos from the dedication Mass are available in the gallery.
Story by S.L. Hansen
LINCOLN (SNR) - The Feast of the Assumption of Mary, Saturday, Aug. 15 was particularly joyful for members of Saint Patrick Parish in Lincoln. That was the day their new church was consecrated and dedicated.
“I really can’t put it into words,” said Father Troy Schweiger, pastor of the parish since 2011. “It went from being just a building to the house of God, and that’s overwhelming.”
“What a wonderful and spiritual journey it has been,” Mike Hosek, building committee chairman, said in his welcoming remarks.
Bishop James D. Conley presided. He recalled significant events in the parish’s long history – one of the oldest in Lincoln – and the many ways God has blessed the parish so that the new church could be built.
He spoke of the fire that destroyed the original frame church in 1908 and the brick replacement that was hastily finished that same year. He recalled the loss of the entire property to foreclosure during the Great Depression, and Bishop Louis B. Kucera’s remarkable effort to secure donations to buy it back for the parish soon afterward.
There were murmurs of wonder as the bishop noted that the church that had served the congregation for 107 years was meant to be only temporary. It was about to be condemned before it was razed.
Bishop Conley commended the congregation’s generous donations of time, talent and treasure. “The Lord has done great things through you. Holy is His Name!”
Father Schweiger agreed Divine Providence has been evident throughout the entire process.
“So many things that could have happened to derail the whole process, and He kept sending blessing after blessing,” Father Schweiger marveled.
It would be no surprise to anyone familiar with Saint Patrick Parish that the people themselves were heavily involved. They are a hands-on, hard-working congregation.
After Father Schweiger committed his own woodworking skills to build the cabinetry for the sacristy, his offering was matched exponentially. Parishioners were soon harvesting donated oak trees (including one from the bishop’s back yard) and turning them into pews, baseboards, crown molding, the ambo, baptistry, altar and other furnishings.
“People wanted to give their talents back to the Lord as a gift,” said Father Schweiger.
His mother, Mary Jo, served as the unofficial supervisor, enthusiastically pitching in with other parishioners on nights and weekends, month after month. She was recognized with a standing ovation during Saturday’s dedication Mass.
“She gives her very heart and soul,” Father Schweiger said. “It’s just an act of love for her.”
Kevin Clark, architect, said that he had never seen such a spirit of volunteerism before.
“This parish has taught me more about humility and kindness,” he said. “What they have done with their time, talent and treasure far exceeds anything I have seen.”
Parishioner Steve Bieber, who has had a successful career as an art director, worked with fellow parishioner Mary Ellen Kudron to design the pews and altar.
“I was getting emotional back there,” he said after the dedication Mass. “Hopefully, my grandkids will be sitting on the pews someday and my kids will say, ‘Your grandfather helped make these.’”
Other elements came from unexpected places.
For example, the design committee had decided the nave would have six windows depicting mysteries of the Rosary, and two windows in the bell tower would feature Saint Patrick and the Holy Family.
After construction had begun, the committee heard that some items from the chapel in Nebraska City’s St. Mary Hospital would be available, as they were also building a new facility. Several committee members drove down with Clark to investigate. They were stunned to see six beautiful windows in the Franz Mayer tradition, depicting the Joyful Mysteries.
Clark got out his tape measure, dubious that the windows would fit into the existing framework. He called back to Lincoln to verify the dimensions on the designs. He measured the windows again. He called for verification again.
The windows were a near-perfect fit, once the lower ventilation panels were removed and repurposed in the new parish hall.
Clark said, “I think that was my favorite miracle,” out of all the others, large and small, that were part of this project.
After it was announced that Saint Patrick Parish in Omaha was closing, committee members were again astonished to find two more windows - featuring St. Patrick and the Holy Family - that closely matched both their plans for the bell tower and the windows secured for the nave.
The bell tower was a feature that the parish held onto with fierce determination, even when Clark was guiding them to cut something in order to meet their budget.
“They said, ‘The last thing we would cut would be the bell tower. It’s the most important thing on the exterior of this building to show what we stand for and what we believe in,’” Clark remembered.
Cast in 1896, the bell itself originated in San Francisco and came to the parish by way of the Schoenstatt Shrine in Crete and Saint Michael Parish of Lincoln, neither of which were able to use it for their own towers.
The Stations of the Cross and marble altar rails were acquired from another Saint Patrick Parish that had recently closed in New York State. The pipe organ, which will be installed after funds are raised, was rescued from Saint Mary Church in Muscatine, Iowa, days before that building was razed.
Over and over, one blessing after another proved that the Lord was behind the new Saint Patrick Church.
Not long ago, the panels for the altar were glued together, framed and stained. As Father Schweiger and several parishioners stood back to admire the effect, they were stunned to see the image of a cross made out of the grain of the wood.
“God-made,” Clark stated.
“Truly, by God’s grace,” Father Schweiger affirmed.
After Saturday’s dedication, parishioners reveled over coffee and cake.
“It feels good,” said JoAn Pavel, who has heard talk of a new church since she and her family joined the parish in 1970.
“We’re workers around here,” her husband, Francis, proclaimed.
Fourth-grader Isabelle Hobelman sang with the children’s choir during the dedication Mass. She was looking forward to having school Masses in the new church instead of the gym.
“It’s really awesome,” she said.
“And it’s going to be nice to not walk outside to go to Mass now,” added her mother, Bonnie.
During the Mass, Father Schweiger’s predecessor, Msgr. David Hintz, was recognized for the groundwork he laid. Many regretted that he was too ill to attend the dedication.
“Without him, and the work that he did, we wouldn’t have been able to do it,” Father Schweiger said. “His prayers and sacrifice and suffering are part of the reason we were able to build.”
The biggest blessing he has seen is how the parish has come together throughout the last four years.
From those who spent hard-earned vacation days helping, to the junior high students who hauled lumber in between classes, to the many parishioners who found a way to give a little more time, a little more money and a little more skill to make this church a reality, “It has really been a family effort,” Father Schweiger said.
There is still more to be done. The woodwork isn’t finished yet, nor is the decorative interior painting. The bell tower needs more bricks, and the bell can only ring by hand until an electronic system is procured.
“It will be fun in the coming weeks and months to see what’s changed each week,” Hosek said.
“It’s a great analogy to our spiritual journey,” reasoned Father Schweiger. “The great cathedrals in Europe were not built in a year… and we’re never completed. We’re always being shaped and molded and perfected by God.”
Editor’s Note: As this issue was being prepared for printing, the Register learned of Msgr. Hintz’s death, Aug. 18.