September 8, 2017

Annunciation Parish celebrates re-opening of restored church

Altar servers lead the way in an Aug. 27 eucharistic procession of members of Annunciation Parish in Brazil through the streets of the west central Indiana town from its temporary worship space to its restored church. (Submitted photo by Shayna Tews)

Altar servers lead the way in an Aug. 27 eucharistic procession of members of Annunciation Parish in Brazil through the streets of the west central Indiana town from its temporary worship space to its restored church. (Submitted photo by Shayna Tews)

By Shayna Tews (Special to The Criterion)

BRAZIL—As incense rose in the morning air at the front of a procession on Aug. 27, the sound of chiming bells rang through the city of Brazil to announce the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. The faith-filled walk that followed led almost 150 parishioners home to their newly renovated church.

“We took Jesus to the streets,” said Annette Durcholz, a member of Annunciation Parish in Brazil. “I’m just overwhelmed. It’s so surreal.”

Durcholz, other parishioners and Father John Hollowell, the parish’s pastor, had spent time during the last two years celebrating Mass elsewhere, including most recently at Brazil’s First Presbyterian Church, while Annunication Church was undergoing a much-needed overhaul.

It was only fitting that the Gospel reading that day was from Matthew 16, which recounts how Jesus declared that he would build his Church on the rock of Peter. Years ago, that Scripture passage inspired the parish’s capital campaign slogan, “A Firmer Foundation.” The money was necessary for a much-needed overhaul of its 136-year-old church building which was in jeopardy from a failing foundation.

In his homily, Father Hollowell noted that only God himself could have planned it so beautifully.

‘A very powerful thing’

“A lot of the parishioners kind of feel like we’ve been out in the desert and wandering around,” explained Father Hollowell. “We pack a suitcase up for every weekend Mass, and we’ve been blessed to have a great place to celebrate Mass [at First Presbyterian Church]. They’ve been awesome hosts and just very gracious, but home is home. So it will be good to be back and not wandering about anymore.”

Now, the wandering has indeed come to an end—but not before one final journey: Father Hollowell planned a eucharistic procession following the faith community’s final Mass in their temporary worship space.

Members of the Knights of Columbus, in full regalia, carried a canopy over a monstrance. Every youth altar server was on hand to bring Jesus home, some young men even returning from college and the seminary to be part of the event. With a leader announcing through a megaphone, parishioners prayed a rosary during the procession, sharing Hail Marys through the city.

Brazil’s police department provided an escort for the procession, as the Blessed Sacrament guided the journey for parishioners and for all townspeople to see.

Father Hollowell, who also serves as pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Parish and chaplain of DePauw University, both in Greencastle, said eucharistic processions provide an encounter with Christ for the whole community, Catholic or not.

“We did a procession at my other parish a few months ago where reporters were taking pictures. We didn’t even tell anyone. We didn’t think to advertise it until after the event,” he admitted. “A lot of people, you could see it in their faces. They were taking pictures, and everybody was just kind of silent. You could see it in their eyes, that it was a very powerful thing for them. And that’s exactly why canon law said that, why priests need to do processions.

“So it’s great, and I think everybody in town knows what we’re doing, that the church is being fixed, so it just made sense I think from that standpoint.”

Preserving ‘what our ancestors gave us’

The recently completed project was the second phase of a broader renovation effort. The first phase began about two years ago. As workers repaired the church’s faulty foundation, parishioners spent six months worshipping at the Presbyterian church.

Then, after a year of allowing the walls to dry out from water that had seeped into the plaster over the years, parishioners said goodbye to the beautiful church building again for about six months, awaiting this historic facelift along with other significant changes to the church.

Parishioner Chris Wagner and his family refinished the wooden pews. He explained the work as “doing it for God and for the community, and it’s really been a great blessing to do it.

“It’s been fun and frustrating at times,” admitted Wagner. It took him and his family about 1,000 hours since early March to complete the sanding and staining of the pews and reupholstering of the kneelers, but it all finally came together.

“I was just overcome this morning coming back in, following Jesus in,” said Wagner. “Really, it was a huge experience for me. Outstanding.”

The capital campaign raised $1.2 million dollars—more than parishioners expected. Such generosity turned out to be a blessing as more repairs became evident as work progressed.

According to Father Hollowell, the $1.2 million figure, plus a family’s donation of about $900,000 to restore the church’s organ and additional support to the loft that holds it, covered the $2 million needed for the final cost of the project.

Other improvements included new hardwood flooring; new wood trim and doors; traditional painting on the walls, ceiling and Stations of the Cross; and new gold coating and finish on treasured items like a monstrance, altar candles and tabernacle.

“It was 1880 when [the building] was started, and it was finished about a year later,” said Ed Burt, a member of the Knights of Columbus. “Some of the glass has been with us the whole time, and we’re managing to preserve what our ancestors gave us.”

Parishioners had quite a view to behold upon entering the doors to a church closed for six months.

“It was amazing,” admitted Marci Rush. “I wanted to start crying, because it just took my breath away.”

The youths of the parish were deeply touched by the renovations as well.

“Some people wanted this church to be torn down and [for us to] build a new one. It’s nice that it is the same, but it has some new features,” explains 11-year-old Vivian Etling. “All the painting, and how they have the angels with the candles. … It looks like the altar is in heaven while we are on Earth.”

Father Hollowell spoke briefly to the congregation once inside, the pews full of parishioners now happily back at home.

“It’s been a beautiful journey, a great journey for our parish,” he said. “This isn’t the end. It’s more of a beginning.

“We’re going to go out from here and invite people to Christ. And hopefully [the restoration is] a beautiful thing for all the people in our community, for those living near our church. We did it for the poor and for everybody to come and pray.”

Those doors once closed are now wide open, inviting people in to a church finally sitting on a firm foundation—physically and spiritually.

(Shayna Tews is a freelance writer and a member of Annunciation Parish in Brazil.)

(An open house and Annunciation School reunion are planned for Sept. 9 at the parish, 19 N. Alabama St., in Brazil. The event includes food and tours from noon-2:30 p.m., a sacred music concert featuring Indiana University Jacobs School of Music professor emeritus Marilyn Keiser on the newly restored organ from 2:30-3:30 p.m., recitation of the rosary at 3:30 p.m. and Mass at 4 p.m.)

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