Pastor: ‘bringing new luster to two jewels of the diocese’
Story by S.L. Hansen
ORLEANS (SNR) – Two of the most significant structures in Harlan County are dedicated to a humble Jewish couple, and they are being brought back to their original, historic radiance.
St. Mary Church in Orleans is dedicated to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, and the grand church is properly built to honor the Queen of heaven. St. Joseph Church in Alma is more humble in size and detail, but it has its own charm and characteristics that point to the earthly spouse of Mary.
Father Jamie Hottovy is pastor of both parishes, as well as St. Michael Parish in Oxford. Having studied architecture before entering the priesthood, he is well-equipped to handle the simultaneous historic restoration of both churches. Indeed, he served as designer for the projects, as he has for a number of other parishes in the diocese.
“Properly restoring a historic Catholic church is no small task,” Father Hottovy said. “It’s not simply a matter of deciding on what material the floor will be, or what colors one may personally like. With this approach, design decisions are drawn from theology, Sacred Scripture, Tradition and the rich treasury of artistic examples down through the centuries of church architecture.”
Both churches are more than 100 years old. St. Mary was built in 1898, and St. Joseph was built in 1909, each with classic architectural styling. The churches have been lovingly maintained by their respective parishioners over the years, but it was certainly time for restoration.
“It has been over 30 years since the last time the interiors of both St. Mary and St. Joseph churches have been fully worked on,” explained Father Hottovy. “The wear and tear of the years, as well as a past period of modernization that covered over many historic details are being addressed.”
He added, “This truly is a restoration: bringing back and highlighting several beautiful aspects of these churches that were there from the beginning.”
Father Hottovy described how the refreshed color palette chosen for St. Mary Church reflects the Lord’s mother.
“The newly painted interior incorporates regal blues and brilliant gold and copper to honor her queenship,” he said.
That includes the ceiling.
“The original pressed-tin ceiling is filled with crosses that recall the passion and glory of Christ, as well as the sorrows Mary endured and her share in eternal glory,” Father Hottovy noted. “The ceiling is also embossed with hundreds of fleur-de-lis, a stylized lily, which throughout history has been used to symbolize Mary in her purity. The fleur-de-lis also represents the Holy Trinity and the resurrection of Christ.”
Likewise, St. Joseph Church is being decorated with a color scheme that is fitting for the foster-father of our Savior.
“The new color palette for the interior of St. Joseph will consist of deep browns and tans, rich golds, bronzes and greens all which reflect St. Joseph, the patron of the parish,” said Father Hottovy.
The ceiling of St. Joseph will be one of the most dramatic changes, as the original pressed-tin had been covered by a “popcorn” texture that was trendy in the 1950s and 1960s.
“Removing this texture has revealed an incredibly complex detail of crosses, strings of pearls, floral and foliage elements that symbolize the festivity of the banquet of the Eucharist,” Father Hottovy said.
The flooring of both churches has been rescued from obscurity as old carpet was removed to expose the rich hardwood floors. Pews and kneelers are being repaired and re-stained. And, much to the delight of parishioners, the original communion rails of both churches were found in storage, and will be put back into place.
“I really think it’s miraculous,” Father Hottovy admitted. He said he cannot wait for the rails to be in place so that his parishioners can experience the profound pause of kneeling to receive the Holy Eucharist.
“We’re constantly on the go at hyper-speed in our daily lives, so for us to be able to take a pause and get down on our knees and recollect for a few moments—I think we all need that,” he said. “There is more reverence, more focus, and it makes sense that there would be.”
Obviously, such extensive restoration is an expensive endeavor for two relatively small parishes. Since both were in one of the earlier phases of the Joy of the Gospel campaign, they’ve each received some small distributions to be applied toward these projects, but those funds covered only a fraction of the cost. Parishioners willingly answered the call for more contributions.
“Parish support and enthusiasm has been strong,” Father Hottovy said.
To save money, the parishioners elected not to hire an outside fundraising firm, but to do all the collection themselves. Father Hottovy made many personal visits, explaining both the need and the restoration plans to encourage giving.
Both parishes also held successful letter-writing campaigns, reaching out to former parishioners, family members and other friends of the parishes from across the nation.
“Several of the donors who wrote back and sent us a check were very appreciative of knowing about these developments and were very supportive,” Father Hottovy said.
Also to reduce costs, parishioners did a lot of the “grunt work” of setting up their respective church halls for Mass during restoration, removing pews and carpeting, and so on.
Father Hottovy noted that both parishes are only in “stage one” of the restoration. As more funds become available, the parishioners would like to touch up statues, repair stained glass, and restore other features in these two grand old churches.
The restoration of St. Mary Church in Orleans is scheduled to be done sometime in mid to late June. The completion, they hope, will come while they welcome people to visit the traveling “Eucharistic Miracles” display, to be housed in the parish hall June 3-24, available for public viewing from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
St. Joseph Church will be complete toward the end of the summer. That parish recently launched a website that includes ongoing updates about the restoration: www.stjosephs-alma.com.
Each parish will host public open houses so that all can enjoy the newly restored splendor of their churches.
Father Hottovy is filled with admiration for both groups of parishioners for undertaking these restorations.
“It’s drawing the parish community together in meaningful ways,” he said. “There is so much more beyond the paint and the refurbishing of the wood floors – and it is so meaningful to a pastor to see that.”