November 10, 2017

Renovation gives new life to one church, ‘continues work’ of another

Archbishop Charles Thompson incenses the newly-installed altar of St. Joseph Church in Indianapolis on Oct. 15 following a two-month renovation of the worship space. (Photo by Katie Rutter)

Archbishop Charles Thompson incenses the newly-installed altar of St. Joseph Church in Indianapolis on Oct. 15 following a two-month renovation of the worship space. (Photo by Katie Rutter)

By Katie Rutter (Special to The Criterion)

A church filled to overflowing greeted Archbishop Charles C. Thompson for his first visit to St. Joseph Parish on the southwest side of Indianapolis. About 300 parishioners squeezed into newly‑installed pews and filled the extra chairs set out for the occasion on Oct. 15.

The archbishop made the visit to bless the church after an extensive renovation this spring. Members were proud to show Archbishop Thompson the results of their hard work.

(Related: Statue of Our Lady of La Vang ‘like a miracle’ for Vietnamese community)

“It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in this church. Just wonderful,” said longtime parishioner Jeanette Clements, describing the changes to the church.

The renovation took place during the season of Lent and concluded just before Palm Sunday. In that short period of time, the parish was quite literally flipped on its side.

Originally, the rectangular church was constructed to have the sanctuary located along one of the shorter walls of the space, which allowed all of the pews to face the same direction. In 1971, the sanctuary was moved to one of the longer walls with the seating arranged around it.

“Because it’s a rectangular church and it was sideways, it didn’t really fit,” explained Father Robert Hausladen, the parish’s pastor.

“Part of the plan when they started was to customize pews that would fit the space better, and the space was actually going to be longer but they weren’t able to complete that,” he said.

The recent renovation restored the sanctuary to one of the shorter walls, increasing the amount of seating for the growing congregation and avoiding expensive pew customization.

In another cost-saving move, members decided to purchase pews from St. Anthony Parish in Indianapolis. They had been used in the church building of the nearby former Holy Trinity Parish, which was merged with St. Anthony in 2014 as part of the Connected in the Spirit process.

“Instead of purchasing new pews for about $50,000, we purchased theirs and helped out St. Anthony as well as us,” Father Hausladen said.

Desiring to preserve Holy Trinity’s liturgical art, St. Joseph also acquired the altar, ambo, baptismal font, Stations of the Cross and side altars with statues of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph from the former worship space.

“I’ve been amazed by the response that I’ve heard of from [former] Holy Trinity parishioners that they like to see their pieces being used and they like to see their work continue on,” said Father Hausladen.

During the blessing Mass, Archbishop Thompson incensed the newly-installed altar and blessed the space with holy water. With lifted hands, he prayed that the worshippers gathered would continue to experience God’s presence.

The archbishop also experienced another improvement as he mounted the step of the new ambo to deliver his homily.

“This is a good step here, makes me feel tall, or at least normal size,” laughed Archbishop Thompson, who often makes jokes about his approximately 5-feet-7-inch stature.

St. Joseph parishioners were involved in the renovation from start to finish. Ideas were passed through a parishioner-led committee, and members themselves completed much of the labor. This allowed construction to stay within a $70,000 budget.

“We couldn’t have done it without hundreds of members kicking in,” said Bob Plummer, who organized the renovation. He described the process of removing the dozens of old pews: simply asking everyone to lend a hand after one of the Sunday Masses.

“We’re a big family in church, and we help each other,” summarized parishioner Diane Whitis. “Everybody wanted it, and we all pitched in.”

Father Hausladen and the community expressed the hope that, with the new seating provided by the renovation, the parish will increase attendance while remaining the same tight-knit family. †

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