Diocesan News

Generous Donors Help Renovate Historic St. Mary Church

LINCOLN (SNR) - Saint Mary Parish in downtown Lincoln is finishing up a few renovation projects, thanks to generous contributions from parishioners and other friends of the parish.

New flooring in the sanctuary, refinished pews, and a different set of Stations of the Cross are some of the most recent additions. These followed last year’s replacement of the glass that protects the beautiful stained-glass windows, which was paid for by a solitary anonymous benefactor.

In the weeks before Easter, a new pulpit and new statues will be added.

"It really started with just one thing, which was the tiles under the pews," said Father Doug Dietrich, pastor.

The aging vinyl tiles were breaking, buckling, and beyond stripping and re-waxing. After all, they’d been there as long as anybody could remember.

"We got our use out of them… and then some," stated Father Dietrich.

Last autumn as the 100th anniversary of the parish’s dedication dawned, he decided it was time to consult the parish council about the floor. The trouble was funding.

"There’s not a lot of affluence downtown, and we do have a lot of elderly on a fixed income," Father Dietrich admitted. "So money is a constant issue."

Together, he and the parish council determined to hold a drive to pay for the new floors. The goal was $30,000.

During one October weekend, Father Dietrich noted the need for new flooring at each Mass. He committed an entire month of his own salary and asked the parish families to contribute what they could.

He added a special invitation to visitors to participate as they were able. Pledge postcards were placed at all the exits and by the confessionals so that others who come to Saint Mary regularly would also have the opportunity to help.

Not only did people pledge above the goal, more money has continued to come in.

"The response was just terrific," Father Dietrich said.

He estimated that the parish has received somewhere between $97,000 and $100,000 at this point, and around 55% of the funds have come from outside the parish boundaries.

This unexpected generosity enabled the parish council to complete a few other goals in addition to laying commercial-grade vinyl under the pews.

Parishioner Kevin Aylward was hired to set ceramic tile along the main aisle and replace carpeting under the votive stands with vinyl.

Bud Gray, the parish secretary’s husband, did a little construction to rework the steps leading up to the altar, and contractors laid a rich blue carpet over the whole area. Carpeting was also replaced in the vestibule.

Since they had to be removed for the new flooring anyway, the pews—scratched, and worn by constant use since the 1960s—were treated to a new satiny finish.

Father Dietrich realized there was some money left in a statuary fund, so he used that to acquire statues of Saint Joseph and Saint Anne.

The ladies from the Altar Society were interested in purchasing Stations of the Cross that were more fitting for the architecture of the church than the set that had replaced the originals many years ago.

Surprisingly, Father Dietrich was offered a free set that had been in storage elsewhere. So, the Altar Society decided to purchase a new pulpit instead. The contractor who refinished the pews is building a custom pulpit to match the altar.

Saint Mary’s "Fish Fri" crew also had some money to pitch in. They elected to pay for new carpeting for the side aisles to match the rest of the flooring.

Many volunteers from the parish have helped with the renovation by choosing materials for the flooring, cleaning, hauling out old carpet, and so on.

Among them are Ernie and Bernice Polivka, who have belonged to the parish since they were married nearly 50 years ago. Last Sunday, Mrs. Polivka surveyed the progress in the church where she raised six children and saw two more who died as infants entrusted to God’s mercy. She couldn’t help feeling sentimental.

"It’s our place of worship, and it should be beautiful, and it is beautiful," she said. "It fills your heart with a feeling of God’s presence."

She smiled as she added, "The community of Saint Mary’s has come together to get it done."

Father Dietrich is also gratified by the project’s success.

"I got the windows and the tile done. Now all I’m going to do is minister," he grinned.

But with a historic building like Saint Mary Church, there’s always something. After a moment, he mentioned that the roof might need to be replaced soon.

"And I would love the get the bells fixed," he admitted. "I got a bid on them—it’s going to be $12,000."

He’s not planning another fundraising drive any time soon, but people have been so generous, its possible a benefactor might turn up to provide for that repair as well.

As Mrs. Polivka said, "It’s God’s place, but we have to do our part."



About St. Mary Church

By S.L. Hansen

LINCOLN (SNR) - Saint Mary Church was the original cathedral for the Diocese of Lincoln.

The site on the northeast corner of 14th and K streets was originally purchased by the First Christian Church of Lincoln. That congregation built a large, ornate church for $50,000 – quite a fee back in 1886.

Unfortunately, hard times during the 1890s left the congregation floundering in debt. By 1902, the church had been surrendered to creditors.

When the Diocese of Lincoln was established, St. Theresa Church at 13th and M streets was elevated to the status of pro-cathedral, but it was much too small to suit the purpose. Bishop Thomas Bonacum, the first bishop of Lincoln, determined that he would sell the 13th and M property to raise the $15,000 he needed to buy the abandoned church at 14th and K.

Debate about the suitability of the structure for Catholic worship and the financial burden on all the diocesan parishes to help pay the interest resulted in a delay. It was two years before the sale finally went through, and the bishop paid $17,900 for both the church and the adjoining property.

An $8,500 renovation project was planned to add an apse to the north end of the building for a sanctuary, but efforts to sell the 13th and M property prevented any progress.

Finally, in April 1906, St. Theresa Pro-Cathedral was sold, and renovations began at 14th and K. Just as the project was nearing completion, the new Cathedral burned to the ground one night, leaving only portions of the walls and the main tower.

Between 1907 and 1911, the church was reconstructed. Fundraising to pay for the interior furnishings was slow, however. Bishop Bonacum died in February 1911, six months before the cathedral was finally finished and ready for dedication. Bishop J. Henry Tihen did the honors on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1911.

Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral served the diocese until the Cathedral of the Risen Christ was built and dedicated in 1965. Since then, it has been a parish church serving families, students and workers in downtown Lincoln.

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