By Celine Klosterman
CENTERVILLE – St. Mary Parish spent four years planning and five months renovating the interior of its church. But the highlight of the entire process was the March 25 dedication Mass that “put meaning into it all,” said Ann Young, chair of the renovation committee.
Bishop Martin Amos blessed the new, immersion baptismal font and anointed the new altar with chrism during the Mass, which Young called “a very moving and beautiful ceremony. It brought everything together.”
During his homily, Bishop Amos told parishioners to be proud of the renovation that included new pews, carpet, tile, lights and liturgical furnishings; expanded ceremony space; relocation of the tabernacle; handicapped accessibility and other changes.
He reflected especially on the altar, telling Catholics it symbolizes Christ’s presence and should convey nobility, beauty, strength and simplicity.
“It is here that the paschal mystery, the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, will be celebrated in Eucharist, and we in turn are drawn into that mystery. With full and active participation we enter into the Eucharist,” the bishop said.
But celebrating Eucharist also means being transformed and going forth to minister Christ’s presence in the world, Bishop Amos continued. “…We will be living stones, out of which the Lord Jesus builds the Church’s altar.”
The dedication Mass celebrated a renovation much larger than what parishioners envisioned four years ago, when they formed a committee to replace threadbare, decades-old carpet in St. Mary Church.
“As we looked at the carpet, we knew the pews were going to have to come up, so we started to look at the pews,” Young said. “They had a thin veneer and were scratched, so we thought we should explore getting new pews.”
The committee also decided to replace 12 stained-glass light fixtures that didn’t provide much light and had come from the previous St. Mary Church, which was razed after the existing church was built in 1966.
As projects piled up, parish leaders sought guidance from the Diocese of Davenport, which advised beginning a planning process that looked at the symbolism of church design. Young said parishioners spent nine months undergoing education and developing a master plan. They learned that a baptismal font located at the entrance to the worship space symbolizes entering the church through baptism. They also learned they needed to separate the tabernacle from the altar, which, along with the baptismal font, should be the focal point of the church.
Deconstruction started in October 2011. With the advice of liturgical consultant Kenneth Griesemer of Albuquerque, N.M., St. Mary’s placed the tabernacle behind the altar and separated them with a half wall and glass.
The new altar was made with natural walnut wood and a 7-inch-thick slab of cream-colored marble – the same marble used in the immersion baptismal font and tabernacle, Young said. A new ambo, presider’s chair and deacon’s chair sit on a platform that was altered to become handicapped accessible.
Dark walnut pews were replaced by pews made of wood that matches a honey oak wall in the sanctuary. Seventy-five to 100 seats were eliminated to expand ceremony space and make room for the larger baptismal font, which replaced a small basin. Young said the church now seats about 300 people, still enough for most Masses.
New, solid oak doors and framed glass separate the gathering space from the worship area. While new carpet covers the floor in most of that worship space, tile surrounds the baptismal font and altar.
Plans also call for the addition of shrines, which have yet to arrive, for a statue of St. Mary and a new statue of St. Joseph.
Total cost of the renovations was $460,000, Young said. Nearly all expenses were funded by the estates of deceased parishioners Anna Basenach, John Cinkovich and Amelia Tharp.
Breiholz Construction of Des Moines served as contractor, and Brooks Borg Skiles from Des Moines was hired as architect.
Young, who was born and raised in St. Mary’s, acknowledged some of the changes have been difficult for older parishioners to accept. But she appreciates what she’s learned about the liturgical significance of the renovations. And, she said, “I think it’s just beautiful.”