ST. FRANCIS — Beginning Sunday, March 25, members of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish will worship in their own building for the first time since October 2010. The church renovation, which began in November 2011, is part of a massive renovation project on the Sacred Heart Campus, and one that was in the works for the past seven years, according to parish trustee Helen Bugni.
“Around seven years go, our then pastor, Fr. Bob (Robert) Surges and the parish council and finance committee looked carefully at our finances. The parish school had merged with the other parish schools in the South Shore Cluster to form St. Thomas Aquinas Academy. The school building lay empty, taking up financial resources to maintain it,” she explained. “It was determined that we could not afford to maintain our property and continue to exist as a viable parish.”
Former parish council member, Brad Hoeschen, a real estate attorney, began discussing the situation with colleagues to see what might be possible to maintain the parish’s viability. A senior housing developer met with the parish council to discuss the possibility of purchasing part of the Sacred Heart property for senior housing, while the parish maintained ownership of a portion of the church and the parish house.
“The developer ran into delays in attaining financing and then the economy fell and it looked like the project was not happening,” said Bugni. “Then in April 2011, financing became available and things started moving.”
The property of the school and church was sold to MCZ Development Corporation of Chicago, and work began quickly to renovate the church space and to convert the former grade school and parking lot into 68 one and two bedroom apartments.
A unique partnership with the developers emerged, giving Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, ownership of 60 percent of the original worship space. The remaining 40 percent is co-owned with the new Sacred Heart of Jesus Senior Apartments.
“That area has been transformed into a community meeting space, a conference room, a small kitchen and bathrooms,” said Bugni, adding, “An access ramp that will accommodate handicapped persons as well as standard caskets was constructed from the entrance foyer down to the level of the worship space.”
The parish maintains ownership of the parish house that will be renovated later as parish officials determine the best use for the space.
“We had targeted our Faith in the Future donations for transforming some of the space into a center for adult spirituality,” said Bugni.
The 350-400 family parish members are excited to worship and maintain office space on their own property again. The parish is the only Catholic church in St. Francis and has roots dating to 1868. Since October 2010, the parish has utilized office and storage space at the Cousins Center, and various locations for Mass.
“We were the beneficiaries of the generosity of the people at Howard Village,” said Bugni. “Fr. Bob said daily Mass there until his retirement in October 2011, and they provided an empty apartment for our use for meetings. All of this was at their expense.”
The sisters at Clare Hall hosted Sacred Heart of Jesus weekend Masses, and for a while, funerals and weddings were held there. Since November, funerals have been held at Nativity of the Lord Parish in Cudahy, where their new pastor, Fr. Jan Kieliszewski, also serves as pastor. However, since January, funeral luncheons have been held in the new community space on the Sacred Heart campus.
Described by parishioners as more of a gymnasium, the former church lacked Catholic symbolism, but made up for the lack of accoutrements and style with faithful worshippers. With the assistance of liturgical designer Capuchin Fr. Mark Joseph Costello, the space is becoming symbolic and beautiful.
“He has created a space full of symbolism and brought in artisans to enhance the beauty,” Bugni said. “The first thing people notice is the ceiling. It defines the space. In the design of the ceiling is a cross and octagons over the altar platform and baptismal font. The octagon has been a symbol of the Resurrection in the ancient church.”
Mike Jagielo of The Wood Plane in Almond in the La Crosse Diocese created the altar, ambo, tabernacle stand, presider’s chair and the panels around the font. Local sculptor Jordan Wanner created a unique corpus for the cross.
“When looking at it, it makes you think about both the crucified and the risen Christ,” Bugni said. “He also designed our tabernacle and lamp.”
Glass artist Kenneth von Roenn from Louisville, Ky., created the glass in the niches behind the altar.
“This piece cannot be described, just experienced,” said Bugni. “We have a small adoration chapel behind the altar and the tabernacle can be seen from both the church and the chapel.”
While there are many new additions to the worship space, several items from the former church have been incorporated into the new space, such as the statues of the Sacred Heart that hang over the doors leading into the church. Furniture restorer Craig Graybar, who grew up in the parish, refurbished the statues of Mary and Joseph, as well as the Stations of the Cross.
The funding for the project was a combination of the sale of the property as well as through the donations of parishioners. Rather than conduct a capital campaign, parish officials simply stated their needs, and the funds were contributed. Despite the generosity of members, financing the project was not without its uncertainties and stress. However, at the last moment, an unexpected bequest covered the cost of the pews, and an anonymous donation covered other hidden costs.
“As another example, our deacon, Leroy Ode, provided the funds for the tabernacle and the light over the tabernacle,” said Bugni. “We also engaged our own contractors individually. Mike Duffek of Kotze Construction served as our project manager, with lay people from the parish working closely with him essentially as the owner’s representatives. Kotze has done the general construction and carpentry work. Wall Tech was hired to do the dry wall, painting and staining. When you see the ceiling and the walls, you can see that it was not an ordinary dry walling task.”
In addition, Dnesco Electric worked on lighting and wiring for the sound system and fire protection system. Bredon Mechanical provided heating and cooling services. Hetzel Tile worked on the altar platform and font. Schoofs Plumbing provided water supply to the immersion font. White House of Music designed the sound system, and David Broskowski refurbished the organ system.
“We also needed new terrazzo on part of our floor and this monumental task fell to Castellan Terrazzo,” said Bugni. “North Shore Marble Restoration made the rest of the terrazzo look like new.”
Although excitement is building for the formal dedication on March 25, when Archbishop Listecki will celebrate Mass, Bugni admitted that there have been many uncertain days when no one was sure the project would reach completion.
“It has been a journey of uncertainty and hope. We sometimes felt like the Israelites in the desert with no home, so we are looking forward to being home.” she said. “Fr. Jan Kieliszewski presided at an Ash Wednesday prayer service in the new community space. We had a full house, and I believe it is because people wanted to have a sense of being home.”