All he wanted was a presider chair and to move the tabernacle, but what happened after that resembled something reminiscent to “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” without the limo, trip to Disneyland or the big bus.
When Fr. Ken Omnerick became pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Hartland last July, he knew he wanted to change the semi-circular bench positioned around the apse. According to Shirley Lamerand, business manager, Fr. Omnerick was unable to see the congregation from the back wall and asked if he could have a presider chair.
“He also wanted to move the tabernacle behind the altar so it was visible to the congregation,” she said. “He not only wanted to see the congregation, but he was unable to see the choir (from) where he was seated. A lot was being done on guess between the choir and Father and that resulted in a few miscues because they could not see each other.”
After contacting the parish council about wanting a presider chair so he could view the congregation and the choir, Fr. Omernick was amazed at how quickly the parishioners responded.
“They grabbed the idea and ran with it,” he said. “We had a lot of preparation before we got started, such as making sure the steel structures in the ceiling could support the changes, and getting some professional help with the project, but the parishioners really stepped up to help.”
Word was out and suddenly members of the parish offered suggestions of additional changes for the sanctuary. Some wanted the back wall to become more of a focal point in the church. Another family wanted to move the crucifix from the narthex to the wall of the sanctuary.
When the church was remodeled in 1992, the crucifix was relocated to the narthex leaving a plain wall behind the altar. In 2002, the wall was repainted in a lighter faux finish to give it a three dimensional appearance.
“People began talking about wanting the wall color deeper,” said Lamerand. “The whole thing really took on a life of its own, and all of a sudden we had this anonymous donor who agreed to match $10,000 of donations from the members to make this project happen.”
Originally slated for last Advent, the $34,000 self-funded project was bumped to the last week in January as more ideas for change surfaced, including renovation of the sound system, replacement of the carpeting, and repainting the sanctuary.
“Father wanted the project to be done in one week,” said Lamerand, adding, “It was his goal to have everyone see the sanctuary one way for weekend Masses and then totally changed the next week.”
After the last Mass Jan. 24, volunteers tore down the bench, removed a step, relocated the tabernacle, and ripped up carpeting. Parish officials acted as subcontractors, with the secretary coordinating cleaning crews, the parish council president bringing in a team of willing painters, and acting general contractor, Lamerand, coordinating all of the volunteer teams.
“We had volunteer painters work on the side walls each night, with a different crew each night,” said Lamerand. “We hired Spolar Studio to paint the back walls in gold paint, followed by acrylic paint and another layer of gold.”
The combination resulted in a chemical reaction between the two media, leaving the wall a crinkled gold appearance. New lighting accentuated the luminescent design.
Architects and engineers coordinated the sound system upgrades, as well as the relocation efforts for the massive crucifix to make sure it suffered no damage.
The final night a team of nearly 60 people cleaned, polished and removed construction and painting debris to be ready for Sunday’s Masses. Their quick work and massive amount of changes to the sanctuary surprised everyone, especially Fr. Omnerick.
“He kept saying, ‘All I really wanted was to move the presider chair and the tabernacle,’” laughed Lamerand. “I think we were all very surprised at how much this project meant to our parishioners. It has been a very spiritual experience for everyone and we never would have dreamt that all of this would have happened.”
From his first few days at St. Charles, Fr. Omernick said he realized he was blessed with a unique group of talented and caring members, who not only shared their time and talent, but their prayerful selves with the community.
“The change in the sanctuary has really changed our parish in so many ways,” he said. “It is not only beautiful, but the members are a more prayerful community and the church feels more prayerful in spirit.”
The next project for the parish of 1,930 families is to renovate the narthex. After the crucifix was relocated, the members realized that paint was needed, and volunteers came forward to paint the narthex a deeper color and to install oak paneling.
“We decided that we wanted to make a nicer area for waking the body for funerals, and making the whole funeral processions nicer,” said Lamerand. “Like with any home improvement project, one thing leads to another, but we are very pleased and excited with what has been done. It looks beautiful and I hope that people come out to see our church.”