WESTON (SNR) - To celebrate the 125th anniversary of their church last year Saint John Nepomucene Parish in Weston gave the interior of their beautiful brick building a lovely renovation that hearkens back to the original appearance.
The church will be rededicated at a special Mass Sunday, June 5 at 2 p.m. Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz will be the main celebrant and a catered dinner with reserved seating will follow.
Father Thomas Brouillette spearheaded the effort when he was still pastor of the parish. He relied heavily on the parish council, as did his successor, Father Christopher Goodwin, who came to the parish about a year ago. The end results are stunning, by all accounts.
"Our church is just beautiful now," said reader and parish council member Deb Carroll.
Rick Virgil has belonged to St. John Nepomucene since he was 6 years old, and he remembers the last major renovation well. In fact, he was on the parish council during that time: 1974.
"This is God’s house - we’ve got to keep it up," he reasoned.
Then he added with a chuckle, "In the 1970s, what we did was modernize it, and we tried to do it as cheap as possible."
Back then, the trend was to discard communion rails, replace ornate high altars with minimalistic low altars, remove statues, repaint in stylish earth tones and so on.
Mr. Virgil said that the council did its best to satisfy the vision of each parishioner, sending out a survey to collect everyone’s ideas.
That’s why Saint John parish’s high altar is still intact.
"People thought it was just too beautiful," Mr. Virgil recalled. "So we compromised. We took off the spires so we could move it back farther, but we kept it."
That’s an especially good thing, now that the parish is working to restore as much of the church as possible.
"We’re trying to put more of the tradition back into it," explained Mrs. Carroll.
She and her husband Pat both grew up at Saint John Nepomucene Parish, attending the parish school before moving on to Bishop Neumann High School in Wahoo. They returned to the parish 33 years ago as a young married couple and raised their three children in the same church and school.
Like Mr. Virgil and other parishioners, Mrs. Carroll has a lot of memories of what the church looked like when she was a child. She longed for much of the original beauty.
She wasn’t the only one. As the current parish council collected surveys to learn what everyone had in mind for the 125th anniversary renovation, there was a consistent message that it was time to restore some of what had been removed nearly 40 years ago.
Jean and Char Kriz of Brainard were hired to help plan and execute the restoration process. The couple has worked on several other churches in the diocese, so they have some great experience in this kind of work.
The main altar was repainted and enhanced with a little gold leaf. Three original statues had remained all along, and more were brought out of storage and returned.
"I remember a lot more statues in the church, but we don’t have them," Mrs. Carroll said, lamenting in particular the loss of two statues of angels holding basins for holy water.
Mr. Kriz built two new side altars – not as ornate as the originals, but certainly complimentary to the high altar. In front of each side altar, a length of prayer rail recalls the original communion rail.
The walls were re-skimmed with a plaster coating that retains paint better than the original. Paneling along the bottoms of the walls that replaced original wainscoting was removed, and new wood panels were installed and painted to brighten up the area.
On the floors, the 1970s dark green and gold carpeting was removed. New carpet was stretched under the pews, and porcelain tile laid on the aisles.
The pews themselves are new, since the originals were long gone and the 1974 seating didn’t match the traditional appearance of the church.
"They are similar to the original ones, but they have padded seats," Mrs. Carroll noted.
Other changes were more practical in nature. Central air and heat were added at the beginning of the renovation project, about three years ago. The beautiful stained-glass windows were also sealed and covered with protective glass.
Then there was the restroom issue – the church didn’t have one. Parishioners were accustomed to it, and sometimes the school facilities were available, but this was a need brought up by more than one person.
In the end, the rarely-used cry room was divided and half of it was combined with the old confessional area to create a space big enough for a restroom. The confessional was moved to the other side of the building, and the final result is quite satisfying.
Mr. Virgil, whose wife, Teresa, cleans the church, is quick to praise the renovation work.
"Oh, it’s just gorgeous," he exclaimed.
Mrs. Carroll is equally enthused with the church renovation.
"It just makes you feel closer to God when you go there," she said.