A beloved church, revived: St. Joseph Catholic Church unveils $6 million renovation
For thousands of families spanning multiple generations, the church building is more than a building.
An infinite array of memories are embedded within its circular space bound by brick and mortar. Joy, heartbreak, self-discovery, new beginnings.
It’s the sacred home and sanctuary where thousands pray to God, feel closer to their savior.
And last weekend, that building’s revival was celebrated by its parish.
After 10 months of grueling construction, the renovations at St. Joseph Catholic Church were officially unveiled during an open house on Sunday afternoon.
The $6 million project was funded entirely through donations. For nearly a year, mass was held in the building’s gymnasium while construction took place inside the church.
When the first Mass was held in the newly renovated church on Saturday evening, it was a moment Father Mike Hawken will never forget.
“There were tears of joy and applause,” he said, with a smile. “People were ecstatic because they’ve waited so long for this moment. It was awesome.”
The renovations include practical and much-needed improvements to lighting, sound and fire suppression systems. It also includes wheelchair accessible seating and entrances, a spacious new entryway and gathering space called the “narthex,” accessible restrooms, a bride’s room, a religious articles store and a cry room.
A new covered entrance and drop-off area is also ADA accessible.
There are new pews, kneelers and tile flooring.
Three giant new technology screens and LED lighting were installed in the ceiling.
The renovations also include some more spiritual aspects.
A holy water and baptismal font in the narthex welcomes worshippers as they enter the church.
New stained glass windows feature the lives of St. Joseph, Jesus and the Holy Family.
Medallions on the floor represent holy symbols.
There was also a new baldachin suspended from the ceiling over the alter.
Walking into the renovated church for the first time gave many parishioners goosebumps.
“It’s absolutely stunning and I love that they maintained the character of the original church,” said Ann Zimmerman, who has attended St. Joseph with her family for 25 years. “It feels bigger and brighter, especially with all the natural light.”
“I love all the light,” he told the Dispatch. “It adds a sense of reverence and awe to the place.”
During the open house, the amiable pastor, along with building committee chairman Pat McAnany, answered parishioners’ questions and offered interesting details about the renovation design.
Below, in the church’s basement, another celebration was winding down. The open house took place immediately after the 26th annual St. Joseph Table and pasta dinner.
The event celebrates a 500-year-old Sicilian tradition of feeding the hungry.
In the middle of the basement sat a massive ornately decorated table, with homemade baked goods and bottles of wine for sale.
Off to the side, several volunteers sold nearly 7,000 cookies which were homemade during the last couple Saturdays.
The pasta dinner was free to the public, but donations were accepted.
All the proceeds from the table and the dinner donations will be used for the purchase of grocery gift cards to provide aid to families in the St. Joseph parish and the surrounding community.
Last year, the event raised enough for nearly $13,000 in grocery gift cards.
“Some of the thank you notes we receive are heartbreaking,” said Christine Marion, who sits on the steering committee for the event. “There are so many families dealing with an unexpected illness or loss of a job. And often, when they do get back on their feet, they donate back to the cause.”
Having the open house occur on the same day as the Table gave the historic moment special meaning, said Beth Bracken, director of religious education at St. Joseph.
“(The Table) really embodies the true spirit of our parish because helping families in need is one of the greatest aspects of our church,” she said. “It’s so perfect we’re unveiling the renovations today because people who have wealth and people who do not have wealth sit together in those pews upstairs. We’re a community.”
The road to the finished renovation was a long one for the parishioners.
A building committee to look into possible renovations was established three years ago.
In September 2016, the church announced its plans for renovations and revealed it’s goal to raise $6 million to make it happen.
Fundraising began in a haste and a year ago, the church had raised enough money to be granted permission from the archdiocese to proceed with the project.
Last May, worship services were moved into the gym and construction began.
For McAnany, whose family spans five-generations of St. Joseph churchgoers, the journey from start to finish has been more about community than construction.
“Father Mike knows how generous this parish is but I didn’t know and I was blown away by the generosity,” he said in regards to the $6 million renovation costs raised through donations. “The outpouring of love for this church was overwhelming.”
The St. Joseph community is grateful for everyone’s support, too.
Shawnee resident Barbara Miller, who has been a St. Joseph parishioner for 57 years, said that walking into the newly renovated church was like ‘coming home.’
“Father Mike put his heart and soul into these improvements and it really means a lot to all of us,” she said. “I think it’s fabulous and everyone did a wonderful job.”