Story by S.L. Hansen
ABIE (SNR) – Bishop James Conley celebrated the rededication of Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Abie Jan. 29, three years to the day that the Gothic style church was stripped down for renovation.
Describing the church as “stunningly beautiful,” Bishop Conley congratulated the many parishioners who contributed time, talent, and treasure to restore the church.
It was the bishop’s first opportunity to celebrate Mass in Abie.
“What a glorious and historic time to come!” he exclaimed.
The renovation has been a labor of love lasting for three years. The parish was able to complete the work a little before the church’s 100th anniversary, which will be in 2018.
“When we started back in 2011, it was because the walls and ceilings had cracks in them,” Father Ronald Homes explained.
As with any renovation, one thing leads to another.
“The carpet was outdated – the parish was talking about that for years,” said Father Homes.
Ss. Peter and Paul Church is such an attractive building on the outside, parishioners wanted the inside to be just as glorious. A committee was gathered to decide what projects were viable. They also did a lot of research, including touring other churches that were recently renovated.
A couple from the parish was instrumental in the work. Paul Augustine, who specializes in construction, was the contractor. His wife, Denise, who had trained in Florence, Italy, provided much of the interior design, including some original artwork.
The renovation was definitely dramatic: basically the whole interior was gutted. For more than two and a half years, Abie parishioners traveled to their sister parish in Bruno for Mass because there was nothing but dust and construction debris at Ss. Peter and Paul.
“The walls were so bad, we decided to actually put a false wall attached to the outer wall,” Father Homes said.
This method not only allows for insulation – which saved the parish the cost of another furnace – it allows the building to settle without pushing on the wallboard.
Many lovely details were added throughout the building. The windows were treated to decorative frames, the ceiling was enhanced, and a few more columns were added, with capitals made from casting the existing ones.
“We were able to use modern techniques which allowed us to make a very grand looking church in a way that was very cost effective.”
Around the altar, which Mrs. Augustine painstakingly painted to look like the antique altars one might see in Europe, the parish had marble flooring installed.
Some of the modern features include a much improved sound system and LED lighting throughout the building – including backlighting for the statues, which gives them a heavenly glow.
Parishioners helped as much as they could – moving out pews, demolition, and then moving everything back after the walls and ceiling were finished.
“Any time there was something big we would put the word out and people would show up,” Father Homes said.
That included what seemed like never-ending cleanup.
“We wiped down every inch of that church from the ceiling down,” Father Homes stated. “Oh, it was a mess!”
He addressed one area personally: sound-proofing the confessionals. He drew on his pre-seminary experience working on customized vans and renovating his own 1970 Plymouth Barracuda.
“The whole interior of the confessional is foam and fabric, and that muffles the sound,” he explained.
There were some unexpected projects, too.
“We found out that the whole church had to be rewired,” Father Homes said.
Such extensive renovation in a small parish has also required quite a bit of fundraising. Last autumn, the parish held their annual bazar and duck dinner. In addition to the current parish family, more than 1,000 alumni were also invited.
“It’s the biggest event in Abie,” Father Homes said. “The population about triples.”
The event itself was spread out all over the parish. An 80-foot tent was pitched next to the church for games, a country store, silent and live auctions and other fun activities. The basement was turned into the dining room, and a back door was pressed into service as the take-out window.
With such a monumental event, it was all hands on deck among the parishioners.
“Everybody has an assignment,” said Father Homes.
While there are still some funds to raise and pledges to fulfill, Abie’s Catholic community can truly enjoy the beautiful church they worked together to renovate for God’s glory.
“Everybody is pretty proud of it, Father Homes said.