Church takes shape at St. Joseph’s Le Mars
By RENEE WEBB, Globe editor
According to Father Kevin Richter, pastor, “The project is right on schedule. Our dedication date has been set for Oct. 21 and I think we will comfortably hit that. Both the architect and the general contractor have commented that things are going extremely well. We feel very good about where we are at.”
Presently, workers are putting up drywall in the church interior and the pastor noted that more and more in the interior they are moving onto the finishing elements. On the exterior, the focus is on brickwork and storm sewer lines. Soon, concrete will be poured for sidewalks and the parking lot.
Father Richter pointed out that the new traditional-style cruciform church will have a seating capacity of 600- plus. Another major component of the project is a new parish hall.
“Because the church was designed around the high altars from the old church, it necessitated having traditional seating and a traditional feel to it,” he explained. “Everyone is very pleased with how it has turned out.”
In addition to the high and side altars, other components from the old church will be placed in the new. Stained glass will be used in the clearstory of the new church, day chapel and reconciliation room. Murals, statues and church bells are among other items from the old church to find a home in the new church. Pews from the old church will be used in the new day chapel.
The Stations of the Cross from the now closed Neptune church will be used in the new church and current plans call for use of St. Joseph Neptune’s tabernacle in the new day chapel. That chapel, which will seat more than 80 people, will be used for daily Mass and choir practice.
Use of items from the old church, Father Richter mentioned, are two-fold. Parishioners liked the idea of reusing items for sentimental value and it is cost-effective.
“A high altar such as that – you can’t really put a price on that,” he said. “It is a historical piece. To find someone who could make something like that today would be practically unheard of. It was hand-crafted in Germany. Even the statues are hand-carved wood statues from Italy. Those are priceless works of art.”
No one wanted to lose the old church, Father Richter stressed, so by incorporating some of the old into the new helped.
For the main nave of the church, St. Joseph’s has purchased eight stained glass windows from a church in New England that was closed.
Discussions about building a new church for the parish had been held for years.
“They had tried to address the structural issues four times through the years – at least address the moisture problems,” he said. Each time, the repairs lasted less and less time. Twenty-five years ago, in 1987, the parish spent over $1 million remodeling the church and ultimately trying to resolve the moisture problem.
Moisture problems developed early on in the history of the church. Built in 1885, records show that within about 20 years the parish made its first attempt to fix moisture problems.
Parish records also show, noted Father Richter, that when the parish had investigated the possibility of building a new parish center back in the 1998 the architect was hesitant about proceeding with a new hall because of the condition of the church.
More studies were done later that year and in 2000, confirming major structural problems and the decision was made not to move ahead with the hall.
“While there was a need to build for structural issues, it solved the issues of having an adequate parish hall,” said Father Richter, who noted that the hall will be able to seat 250 to 300-plus. The hall and church will also both be handicap accessible.
In the end, they determined structural problems were so extensive that repairing the church was not practical and by 2006 initial plans to build a new church were underway.
Giving up the history and beauty of the present church, however, has not been easy. That’s why incorporating some elements of old church into the new one was important.
As the new church takes form, enthusiasm is building in the parishioners.
“About a month ago after each of the weekend Masses we had an open house to let people walk through the building site and that generated a lot of excitement,” Father Richter said. “They are anxious to be in it and to see it all finished. It’s been a long road for this parish.”
He has been very pleased with the support of the people in terms of their financial giving of the project. They presently have over $7.3 million in hand of the $9.5 total cost of project. Costs include the church, hall, razing of the old school building, parking lot, purchasing of a condo to be used as the rectory and more.
June 16 and 17 will be the last weekend for Masses in the old church. Priests who are native sons and those who previously served will be invited back and there will be a special litany that is part of the liturgies that weekend.
At the end of June, there will be asbestos removal. In early July, the altars and other items will be salvaged. By the end of August, the church will be razed and the lot leveled. Parking and landscaping will be done in September and October.
Mass will be held for St. Joseph parishioners in Gehlen Catholic School’s gymnasium until the new church is dedicated in October.
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