St.Mary’s Church restoration results in gloriously reverent interior beauty

Story and Photos by

Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

Correspondent

July 7, 2014

Bishop Douglas Deshotel, Auxiliary Bishop of Dallas, incenses St. Mary’s new altar, assisted by Deacon Gelasio Garcia.

MORE PHOTOS

Tammy Lange says the $1.4 million restoration and renovation of St. Mary Church in Gainesville did more than brighten the sanctuary’s aging interior.

“It’s kind of a rebirth,” says the longtime parishioner. “Everybody’s heart just opens up when they see the beautiful work, and I think it will bring more people into the church. This is the start of a whole new chapter for us.”

Improvements to the 94-year-old church were unveiled during a June 21 rededication Mass celebrated by Dallas Auxiliary Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel. Bishop Deshotel was joined on the altar by Father Victor Cruz, HGN, pastor of the parish during its reconstruction, who returned to his native India in July; Father Karl Schilken, vicar general and moderator of the curia for the Diocese of Fort Worth; and former pastor Father James Pemberton. Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson was in Illinois for his mother’s burial service and was unable to attend.

It was the first liturgy held in the church since the restoration project began Jan. 5. Parishioners packed the mission-style edifice to witness the consecration of a new altar and the lighting of candles.

St. Mary’s restoration committee partnered with the internationally-recognized Conrad Schmitt Studios of New Berlin, Wisconsin, to select the overall design and colors for the new interior. The firm is known for its ecclesial artistry and has done extensive restorations at the University of Notre Dame and cathedrals across the U.S.

“Several parishioners asked Fr. Victor about getting a facelift for the interior of the church,” recalls business manager Pam Hoedebeck. “The roof had leaked at some point, and there were water stains down the walls behind the side altars.”

An altar statue of the risen Christ extends his arms toward a mural of the Rose of Mary that now fills the dome of St. Mary's Church.

Repairs to the stained-glass windows, made and designed by the Emil Frei Art Glass Company of Munich, Germany, were also needed. Among the church’s most striking features, the windows were donated by early church families and cost $200 each when they were purchased in 1921. Conrad Schmitt Studios restored the windows and replaced the plexiglass covers with clear safety glass.

Conrad Schmitt artist Steve Chaprecek brought the sanctuary’s original, white altar to life. The craftsman repainted the structure, then used glaze and a faux painting technique to marbleize the surface. He applied 24-karat gold leaf to an image of the Last Supper on the base of the altar. The result is visually appealing.

“You couldn’t see it before,” Chaprecek explained, referring to the new, dimensional look of the ionic image. “It was all white, so you didn’t know it was there. I used glazing and shadowed the bodies to make it pop.”

A Dallas company repainted the large Stations of the Cross statues created by a German artist in 1921, and the church’s dated blue carpet was replaced with the building’s original hardwood floors, which had been restored.

But the most stunning transformation looms high over the altar. The once all-white dome is now the canvas for a mural of the Rose of Mary.

St. Mary’s pastor Father Victor Cruz, HGN, addresses the assembly at the June 21 Mass.

A symbol of the Virgin Mary, the illustration is traditionally depicted as a five-petal rose in red and white. The red petals represent the five wounds of Christ and the blood of the Christian martyrs, and the white rose denotes purity and virginity.

Fr. Cruz called attention to the medallion during a brief speech thanking the congregation for its donations and support.

“As you know, one of Mary’s many titles is the Mystical Rose of Heaven, and she is often shown surrounded by roses, crowned with roses, or holding a rose,” he said. “This symbol was painted on the ceiling of our church because of its special meaning and association with the Blessed Mother. She is our patron.”

The pastor said he wanted to make the congregation aware and proud of what they have.

“Thanks to all the skillful hands and contractors who contributed to this project,” he added. “And thank God for making us an instrument to complete his work.”

Parishioner Steve Schmitz spearheaded the capital campaign to fund the restoration. A rebate received by the parish from the diocesan All Things Possible campaign was used as seed money for the fundraising effort.

“There was nothing wrong with the structure of the church,” he said. “All the work done was aesthetic.”

The co-owner of a construction company, Schmitz said the improvements maintain the integrity of the original craftsmanship.

Crafted in 1921 by German artists, the church’s stained-glass windows and Stations of the Cross were cleaned and refreshed during the restoration process.

“We were real sensitive not to go too far with the murals,” he pointed out. “We have a fairly simple mission-style church and didn’t want to be something we’re not. The altar, stained-glass windows, and stations were created by German artists in 1921 and reflect the area’s German heritage.”

The project, started in January after the Christmas season, was completed in six months. Buster Bezner supervised the restoration project.

“It’s beautiful,” said Bezner, as the church’s bright lights showcased the interior’s new paint and multihued stained-glass. “I can’t say enough about the work that was done. It speaks for itself.” Bezner hopes the enhanced worship space draws people inside.

“People get pretty excited about what was done if they come look,” he said. “Hopefully, this will revive our faith community.”

St. Mary’s was founded in 1879 to minister to Catholic settlers arriving in Gainesville thanks to a new railroad line.

Improvements to the 94-year-old church were unveiled during a June 21 rededication Mass celebrated by Dallas Auxiliary Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel. Bishop Deshotel was joined on the altar by Father Victor Cruz, HGN, pastor of the parish during its reconstruction, who returned to his native India in July; Father Karl Schilken, vicar general and moderator of the curia for the Diocese of Fort Worth; and former pastor Father James Pemberton. Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson was in Illinois for his mother’s burial service and was unable to attend.

Published (until 1/13/2115)
Back