Parishioners at St. George Catholic Church in New Baden will be welcomed back into their church next Sunday. A six-month-long interior renovation closed the church, and weekly Masses have been held in the gymnasium at the church’s nearby community center.
Restoring the church to its former glory cost upward of $350,000, Father Gene Neff said. The final cost of the project is still being determined. However, the entire project will be paid through donations and pledges from church parishioners.
“It’s incredible,” Neff said of the fundraising. “They blew me out of the water.”
The last time the interior of the church was touched was 30 years ago, and that was just a paint job, according to Neff.
This time, it was a major overhaul of the 108-year-old curch built in 1907. The first step in late January was removing the wooden pews, board by board. The pews were brought by truck to Ohio to be professionally restored.
Then painters came in to repaint the inside of the church. They were followed by finish painters who provided the artistic touch needed to do detail painting and stenciling, Neff said.
“Everything you see from the floor up has been repainted,” he said.
The stenciling in the archways of the church’s ceiling and on the arch of the altar includes gold leaf. Something similar was on the archways decades ago, Neff said, but had since been painted over.
“We thought that was kind of nice so we brought it back,” he said. “We wanted to maintain a bright, light, uplifting kind of feeling when you walked in.”
Once the painting was complete, the old carpet was removed throughout the church. The hardwood floor underneath on the altar was restored. In addition, wooden panels with detailed laser etchings were installed on the front of the steps to the altar.
The church is also now accessible to people with disabilities and has a new sound system, which includes assisted-hearing device units for the hearing-impaired.
“There were a lot of things that needed to be added to bring it up to date,” Neff said.
The restored pews were recently reinstalled. And the old historic wooden doors found in the church’s basement were refinished and expected to be installed at the back of the sanctuary.
“The assembly is very important. It’s where we gather to celebrate God’s presence in our lives,” he said. “It’s why we spent so much energy making it really nice.”
In order to raise the money, the church hired CDS Consultants based in Eureka, Mo., at a cost of about $10,000 to run the capital campaign. It was worth the cost, Neff said, as the church was able to raise all the funds necessary.
“We would have never raised this kind of money,” he said, without the help of the consulting firm. “Parishioners have paid every penny.”
St. George has about 450 households for a total of about 1,300 parishioners.
Jeff Bair, co-chair of the renovation project, praised church members for coming together to fund the project. And Neff praised Bair for leading the project to fruition.
“He has been the right man to do this,” Neff said of Bair. “He has a sense for art, color and design. He knows how to work with other people and businesses. He has been a godsend.”
Bair, who owns and operates Grimm and Gorly Florist in Belleville, worked with a committee of eight members.
The general contractor on the project is Church Interiors Inc. of High Point, North Carolina. Subconstrctors included Pfeffer Electric in New Baden, AA Miller and Sons in Fairview Heights and Wicks Organ in Highland.
Church officials started with the exterior of the church in 2006 after a severe storm did some damage. Over the past nine years, Neff said the church spent $275,000 to make repairs and upgrades to the exterior.
This work included a new roof and tuck-pointing, new exterior windows that protect the stained-glass windows, new exterior clocks on the steeple and landscaping. Some of the cost — $66,000 — was covered by insurance due to the storm damage, but the remainder was paid for by parishioners.
Once all the exterior work was completed, Neff said they sealed the building as cracks in the brick would allow water to seep into the basement of the church.
“When the building started to dry out, it revealed the damage,” he said, referring to damage that water had done on the interior of the church.
The interior renovation would have taken longer had the church not agreed to be vacated. “We said... ‘let’s get out of here. Let them have the building and get it done,’” Neff said.
The church has other projects planned, including more landscaping, additional parking spaces, a new air conditioning unit and more work on its cemeteries.
Throughout the interior and exterior renovation, St. George has also been reshaping the church’s vision, mission and core values.
“We have been working on renovating the living church while these guys have been working on the bricks and mortars of the building,” Neff said.
Want to go?
What: St. George Catholic Church re-opening mass
When: 9 a.m. Sunday, June 21
Where: 200 N. 3rd St. in New Baden