Parishioners in Lincoln, Neb., labor to build their church

February 1, 2015

Hospital's stained glass gets second life at parish

By BETSY TAYLOR

A resourceful Catholic parish in Lincoln, Neb., is building a church using materials and labor in a manner sure to cement the parishioners' attachment to the new church and to each other.

Volunteers from the St. Patrick Church congregation are using wood milled from trees harvested from farmland owned by fellow parishioners and others in the region to build the altar, custom cabinetry and pews. In addition to the parishioners' handiwork, six ornate stained glass windows donated by CHI Health St. Mary's in Nebraska City, Neb., will be installed at the new church in a few months.

St Patrick Church Parishioner
St. Patrick Church parishioner Mike Long cuts wood that will be used to build church pews.

Fr. Troy Schweiger, the pastor of St. Patrick Church and School in Lincoln, said the eagerness to pitch in harkens back to generations ago when it was common for community members to contribute skilled labor to church construction.

Dan Kelly, CHI Health St. Mary's president, said the stained glass windows are from a chapel constructed around 1938 in a hospital that opened in Nebraska City in 1927. When St. Mary's built its $48 million, 18-bed critical access replacement hospital last year, it used some, but not all, of the stained glass. Kelly said some small stained glass windows, religious statues and light fixtures from the previous chapel adorn the new hospital's chapel. A historic window depicting St. Cecelia is incorporated as an architectural feature in the new hospital's lobby.

Because a chapel means so much in the life of a Catholic hospital, it was important to Kelly to find a proper home for the surplus stained glass windows, one that honored "all those who that chapel meant something to."

One degree of separation
The parish is about 50 miles northwest of the hospital, and Kelly said the hospital learned that St. Patrick Church might be interested in the windows through conversations with the Diocese of Lincoln. St. Mary's had contacted the diocese for assistance in designing the chapel in its new hospital.

Fr. Schweiger said the donated windows and volunteer labor from parishioners have saved about a quarter of a million dollars on the church building project. He said a church building committee had planned for stained glass windows in the new church, but knew it might be years or decades before the parish could fund them.

The windows donated by St. Mary's are more than 3.5 feet wide and more than 9 feet tall. One depicts St. Benedict receiving the rosary from Mary; the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary are illustrated on the other five, exactly the elements church planners hoped to highlight in the new church. Fr. Schweiger said in time, the church plans to commission another six stained glass windows, depicting the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary.

As Catholic Health World went to press, the parish was planning its final Mass at the legacy church. Services will be held in the parish school's auditorium until the new church is dedicated Aug. 15, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary.

Aging infrastructure
The church rebuilding project started from necessity. In the fall of 2011, an engineer completing an insurance inspection told Fr. Schweiger the 100-plus-year-old church would be structurally suitable for services for only a few years. The engineer asked: "Father, are you building a new church in three to five years?"

Fr. Schweiger said with that conversation as a motivator, the parish made up of about 750 families began talks about how they'd fund a replacement church. The parish began a capital campaign and Fr. Schweiger said he was amazed at parishioners' financial generosity; the church raised more than $3 million in pledges toward a building budget that topped $5 million.

Volunteers cut down a tree
Volunteers cut down donated trees and milled wood for use in the St. Patrick Church building project in Lincoln, Neb.

As he visited family after family in primarily blue collar neighborhoods in 2013, he heard a variation of: "Here's our pledge, but how can we help out in other ways?" Fr. Schweiger thought: "OK God, you're giving me a message here."

Sweat equity
He and several parishioners decided to build some cabinetry for the new church; soon, volunteers were offering to carve woodwork and build pews. A few farmers and property owners in the area offered the church burr oak and other trees. Volunteers felled the trees and milled the lumber using a portable mill that was loaned to them. Contractors are pouring the foundation and building the shell of the church, and installing the plumbing and electrical work.

Fr. Schweiger said more than 100 people have volunteered to help out with the efforts, including by sanding decorative woodwork or cooking for other volunteers. "It really is a work of love, a work of faith," the priest said.

He said it means a great deal to parishioners to have a hands-on role in building their church. Fr. Schweiger was out at a farm harvesting donated wood with volunteers when one parishioner pulled him aside to thank him for the opportunity to contribute. The parishioner said he'd look at the new altar and the new pews and, "I'll know my hands made these offerings to God."

 

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