Parish enjoying fruits of ‘Joy of the Gospel’ campaign
Story by Tess Wahlmeier
LINCOLN (SNR) – It all started with the carpet.
“One parish family came forward and offered to help replace all the carpet,” said Kevin Clark, parishioner at of St. Teresa Church in Lincoln and architect with Clark Architects Collaborative, who is heading up the renovations of St. Teresa Church. “It was thread bare in many places and you could see the concrete below.”
Indeed, after 25 years of traffic and stray Cheerios, the carpets in St. Teresa Church were starting to wear out. After a family offered to donate money for new flooring, the parish of St. Teresa began dreaming of other improvements that could be made in the church with added funds from the parish’s participation in the diocesan “Joy of the Gospel” capital campaign.
“Often, in your home, we have a thought like, ‘it’s time to get a new refrigerator,’ and by the time you’re done, you’ve remodeled the kitchen. It was sort of that way at St. Teresa, as well,” Clark said. “If we’re going to remove the pews to do new flooring, what else should be done at this time?”
The renovation became a collaborative effort among the St. Teresa parish family.
“We’ve had a very, very committed, dedicated, and talented committee,” said Msgr. Joseph Nemec, pastor of St. Teresa. “We had open meetings for all parishioners numerous times. We were also very open to the parish family bringing in various ideas. All ideas can’t be incorporated, but it really helped us to know what our parish was looking for in terms of a glorious, majestic-looking sanctuary, and many ideas were very valuable and incorporated into this project.”
The floors are no longer carpeted, but rather are patterned with tile. The body of the church has tiling with earthy tones and lots of seams and pieces, but the sanctuary is at a higher level of finish, with large black diamonds and white solid lines. The sanctuary tile is all polished, whereas none of the tile in the church body is. The details give distinction between the sanctuary and the body of the church, which will be highlighted by the new communion rails.
In the 1960’s, the church’s original communion rails were removed and cut up in order to make server and acolyte chairs. The individual pieces were measured and cataloged.
It was a bit of a puzzle, Clark said, but the pieces were reassembled into a new communion rail which is very similar to the original.
The parishioners are excited about the communion rails, and Clark said he has seen many trying out the communion rails, so they are ready for their use at Mass. The rails will be completely finished in time for Confirmation.
In the choir loft, the oak floor was refinished and new flexible chairs were installed. The solid wood choir rail was reengineered and opened up with iron grates to eliminate the acoustic shadow caused by the solid choir rail. The change will allow sound to travel to more of the church. The nave and sanctuary floor tiling increases the resonance which improves the acoustics, a victory for St. Teresa’s many choirs. Many people have commented that “it sounds like a church again,” Msgr. Nemec said.
While the actual structure of the church hasn’t changed, details have been added and pieces have been painted to make the existing architecture more noticeable. The pillars, Gothic arch ribs, and purlins (ceiling beams that span between the arched ribs) are all painted in complementary shades of tan, cream, and taupe, and dark wood paneling was added to the sanctuary walls.
Msgr. Nemec said the coloration accentuates other parts of the church, as well.
“I’ve noticed, with the paneling and the painting, I think our windows are more attractive and vibrant. They seem to catch your eye better,” he said.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the patroness of the church, was known for her humility, her “Little Way.” The renovations of the church reflect this, in that they haven’t been monstrous or transformative, but rather accentuate the simple beauty of the church. The complementary colors make the windows look bluer and draw attention to the gold running through the black marble in the sanctuary.
The brown oak panels draw the eye to the center of the church, and then upward toward the tabernacle and crucifix.
“St. Thérèse is all about the Little Way . . . very simple, and very quiet about her work and her influence, so I think our renovation followed the beautiful example of our patroness.” said Clark.
Clark said one of the other goals of the renovation was to eliminate as many distractions as possible. One way of doing so was moving the presider’s chair and server chairs to be parallel with the altar.
“We got rid of all that extra visual clutter by pushing the chairs to the side, which helps draw your eye to the most important focus, Jesus Christ,” Clark said.
Msgr. Nemec also thought moving the chairs brought about a positive change.
“It helps us to focus better on the ambo for the proclamation of the Word because we’re looking straight at it,” Msgr. Nemec said, “but also, the focus of the sanctuary during the holy sacrifice of the Mass is the altar of sacrifice, and so the people are facing that direction and now we have the celebrant and servers facing the same direction.”
Aubrey Potter, a parishioner at St. Teresa, said she’s noticed even the smallest details bringing out beauty, like the gold pinstripe around the INRI of the crucifix. She is also excited for her son to receive his first Communion at the rail.
For Clark, renovating his own parish has been a different experience than his past church renovations.
“When it’s not yours, you make it right for the people on the committee and then it grows into the parish,” he said, “but here, every weekend, Mass would conclude in the basement and people would fill this space, looking at details, asking about the design, so the parish was highly involved because they were all monitoring the weekly progress and process.”
Although there were several contractors collaborating on the renovation, the parishioners themselves were able to help, as well. All of the gold leafing was done by parishioners, as was much of the painting. There are several electricians in the parish who helped pull wiring for the sound system. Parishioners helped grout tile, move pews, and do odd and end jobs to help refinish the church. One parishioner even rebuilt the broken toe on the Pietà statue.
Chloe Kreikemeier, a freshman at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and life-long parishioner at St. Teresa, said the renovations have brought about fellowship among the members of the parish.
“It’s beautiful to see the community,” she said. “That’s what I grew up on and what I love. Everyone just came together and put the church together.”
One of the most prominent changes is the ceiling – painted a rich blue and sprinkled with golden, six-pointed stars. The stars are found in many European basilicas, and they represent the heavens. Tile flooring symbolizes earth and the wood panels, the walls of the heavenly garden.
“It’s at Mass that Heaven and Earth are brought together,” Msgr. Nemec said.
Kreikemeier said, “I got to go in with my CCD kids the other day, and they noticed that the stars are like heaven and the tile is like earth!”
All of the stars also point toward the tabernacle. The six ceiling panels above the sanctuary have a total of 42 stars, the same number of people in Jesus’s genealogy found in Matthew 1.
“(The stars) also not only remind us of heaven, but of the fact that there are glorious saints in heaven, in union with God, and that’s where we, one day, want to be,” Msgr. Nemec explained.
“The new reverberance (on the tile floor) makes you walk slower,” Clark added. “It slows you down, which I think we can all afford – to slow down a little bit from our normal daily lives and spend a few moments on our knees in prayer.”
The renovation is one of the first Joy of the Gospel projects for the parish. Msgr. Nemec said parishioners were very generous to both the Joy of the Gospel campaign and the renovation. St. Teresa has plans for more phases of renovation, which include St. Teresa School, the church narthex, and the rectory.