By Neal A. Johnson
A major project is under way to renew the interior of St. George Church in Linn.
The goal is to update and improve several aspects of the church, which was completed in 1975.
“We feel this renovation will make the church a more positive, inviting place to worship, and our hope is that this is an opportunity for parishioners to come back and fill it up,” said Father Daniel Merz, pastor of St. George parish and of Our Lady Help of Christians parish in Frankenstein.
St. George has approximately 500 registered families. While the parish has always made the school a top priority, Fr. Merz said it’s time to focus attention on making the church a more beautiful space for Catholic sacraments and prayer.
Planning began about two years ago when it was learned that a new roof was needed, and some leaking through the bricks needed to be addressed.
There was also a longing, which gathered intensity during the parish’s 150th anniversary celebration last year, to renew the 40-year-old building for the next 150 years.
“Since I got here, it’s been evident that people missed the old church,” said Fr. Merz. “Aesthetically, it just doesn’t compare. That doesn’t mean they hate it, but it’s not the same.”
With the need to replace the roof and tuck-point the bricks came more elaborate ideas, and it was decided to combine those with other, larger projects.
Thus, a capital campaign was launched, and a renovation committee was formed.
In the fall of 2015, the committee met with a representative of the Max Autenrieb Company, which has completed church renovations in several other local churches, including Most Pure Heart of Mary Church in Chamois and Sacred Heart Church in Rich Fountain.
“Suggestions were made, and over time, it grew and grew,” said Fr. Merz. “At first, it was basically a big paint job, but in the end, we decided to do a lot more.”
New light fixtures with energy-efficient bulbs have been installed, along with new ceiling tiles with a design stamped on them. Some reconfiguring of the air-handling system also took place as part of this project.
The track lighting in the sanctuary will be reworked, and new flooring will be installed.
Cushions will be custom-made for the pews, handicapped-accessible seating will be provided, and a circular space for the baptismal font will be created near the church entrance.
The vestibule and chapel will get new ceiling tiles and lighting, and the walls will be covered with drywall and painted.
Fr. Merz said the question about whether to leave the brick in the vestibule as-is or cover it was put to a vote.
“We reached a compromise in which some brick will remain and some will be covered,” he said.
New exterior doors made of walnut with a white oak cross will be installed.
On the arm of the cross, there will be one Scripture quote coming in: “House of God — Gate of Heaven” (Genesis 28:17), and as you leave the church, it will say: “Go into all the world and tell the good news” (Mark 16:15).
One of these doors will be equipped with a handicapped-accessible button for automatic opening; the two side doors will be reduced from double doors to a single door with sidelights, and these will be mahogany wood.
A large awning will be installed over the side doors for protection from the elements.
A two-person elevator will be installed for access from the church to the parish hall in the lower level, probably in the back corner of the chapel.
New and restored artwork
The Autenrieb Company will repair and paint all paintable surfaces in the main body of the church, the pews will be cleaned and reconditioned, new drywall will be installed, and the statues of Mary, St. Joseph, St. Ann and St. George will be given new placement in the sanctuary.
The exposed brickwork that remains will be given a lighter color, and there will be a larger crucifix to better fit the dimensions of the church, Fr. Merz said.
A new altar, ambo, tabernacle stand, two small altars for Mary and Joseph, baptismal font, and the cross for the crucifix will be created with donated lumber.
The altar, ambo and tabernacle stand will be topped with black granite. Relics of St. Boniface (Apostle to Germany), St. Hildegard of Bingen and St. Gertrude the Great (both German saints) will be placed beneath the new altar.
“We are very grateful for all the local help we are receiving in this project,” said Fr. Merz.
The center ceiling will be painted a light, wispy blue, and the ceiling directly above the altar will be painted a darker blue with gold stars, calling to mind the heavenly Jerusalem and creating a canopy effect to highlight the altar, where the Holy Spirit descends during Mass.
Two murals from the old St. George church (depicting the Resurrection and the Annunciation), will be installed on the wall behind the choir and on the wall opposite the choir.
“These murals were sold to a parishioner prior to the demolition of the old church,” said Fr. Merz. “These two particular murals were rolled up and had been in an attic for 40 years. We were able to buy them back and feel fortunate to have them. It will add a bit of history from the old church.”
The ornate Stations of the Cross will be moved further back in the church for easier walking access and will be lowered to eye level. A frame will be painted on the wall for each to give them greater prominence.
A frame will also be painted around the stained glass windows to draw them better into the rest of the church. On either side of the windows will be painted eight great angels, each holding a shield with an image on it.
The images will represent the four Gospel-writers on one side (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and the four major prophets from the Old Testament on the other side (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel).
Saints and protectors
Three grand murals will be painted on the back wall.
Christ in glory surrounded by a number of saints, including the Blessed Virgin, St. John the Baptist, Ss. Peter and Paul, St. George and others, will be rendered over the central doors.
St. George will be depicted presenting an image of the current church to Christ. To the left will be St. Michael the Archangel overcoming Satan, much as St. George overcame the dragon.
To the right will be a Guardian Angel protecting two of God’s people.
Fr. Merz said the hope is to have the project completed in March and to invite Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos and his successor, Bishop-elect W. Shawn McKnight, to rededicate the church.
“We’ll be able to worship in the church most of the time” during the renovation, said Fr. Merz, noting there will be a few weeks when the flooring is redone in which Mass will be held either in the gym or the parish hall. “We hope to be in the renovated church before Easter.”
He said the parish has signed on and supports the project, and both parishioners and local businesses have done a great job of raising funds for it.
“But we want to encourage everyone, current and former church members, alumni of the school, and friends of the parish, to consider donating to our cause,” he said.
Care for creation
Fr. Merz added that several components of the project will make the church more energy-efficient, and if funding permits, there is also a consideration for energy-efficiency in renewable solar power.
The St. George campus includes the rectory, the church, Notre Dame Hall, the school, and the gymnasium. Fr. Merz said the annual electrical bill is well over $30,000.
Solar panels come with a 25-year production warranty of 80 percent and promise a complete payback from cost savings in seven to 10 years.
“Our flat or nearly flat roofs make us ideal candidates for the solar panels,” he said.
In addition to cost savings, Fr. Merz said that renewable, clean energy helps the parish put into practice the teaching of Pope Francis in his encyclical, “Laudato Si’” (“On Care for our Common Home”).
The roof for the church was replaced last summer due to some leaks in the vestibule and in the hallway behind the sanctuary.
After some research, the parish decided also to treat the roof section above the vestibule. A 100-percent solvent-free, seamless silicone coating was applied to the entire roof.
Cleaning and sealing of the brick on the church was also completed last summer, along with a project to remove asbestos in the school.
“We hope the church renovation will be completed early next year, and ideally have solar panels next summer,” said Fr. Merz. “Then, we get even busier with the real work of the parish: proclaiming God’s mercy and celebrating His healing sacraments day in and day out ’til the Lord comes in His glory!”
Mr. Johnson is editor of the Unterrified Democrat newspaper in Linn. This article is republished with permission.