One of Columbus' oldest congregations, the oldest Catholic parish in the area, is getting a major face-lift.
Soon after Easter, the interior of Holy Family Catholic Church — founded in 1880 — began to be transformed from a worship space into a construction zone. Workers wearing white sit or stand in scaffolding high in the ceiling as they apply fiberglass and paint. The fiberglass will help protect the century-old plaster, and hopefully see it through another 100 years.
Most every inch of the sanctuary is covered with the steel scaffolding. Large fans on the floor blow air through the great hall.
The Rev. Frank Patterson, the church's pastor, is even getting into the construction act. He was recently given a blue hard hat with the name Frank stenciled on the back. This major overhaul first manifested as a minor one, about six months ago.
"We started noticing cracks appearing on the ceiling," Patterson explained, "and rather than just working on that place, it gave us the opportunity to re-do the sanctuary." That started conversations about what else needed to be done.
This is the church's first major renovation in at least 19 years. Holy Family got a new interior paint job about 15 years ago, around the time of Patterson's arrival, but this effort is far more extensive. In 1980, the steeple had major repairs in which the slates were replaced, and the large cross and ball were gold-leafed. In 1988, the interior of the church was remodeled with new carpet and paint.
Among the major changes under way: new paint; new carpeting; renovated Stations of the Cross to make them stand out more from the walls; removal of the baldachino, an elaborate structure or covering over the altar area that protects it (the church's marble altar will be moved forward to accommodate this change) and the altar rail will be moved back partially, all of which will create a more open appearance; and new lighting and sound systems will be added.
"A renovation committee was put together — people who had gifts and talents to help in the planning," Patterson said. The head of the five-person committee is Holy Family member Robert Cooper.
Temporary home The 850 families have been worshipping in temporary quarters in St. Mary's Hall across from the church on 12th Street. Masses begin at 5 p.m. Saturdays, and 8:30 and 11 a.m. Sundays. The main space in St. Mary's Hall faces an altar area backed by a stained-glass window of Jesus baptizing John, as well as an overflow room with closed-circuit TV.
Because the room in St. Mary's is smaller than the main sanctuary, "a common remark is, 'Father, for the first time we can hear what you are saying,’ ” Patterson quipped.
The projected completion date for the renovations is September or October.
Patterson has jokingly told his congregation that if they're put off by all the construction, they are welcome to worship at any other parishes in town but to keep sending their pledges to Holy Family. The renovations are being funded by the church, from members' contributions already in the bank. Holy Family did not conduct a fundraiser or capital campaign for the renovations.
Conrad Schmidtt Studios, a Wisconsin-based company, is leading the renovation effort. This is the same company that oversaw artistic changes to the Springer Opera House renovation — completed in 1999 — and renovations to the Catholic cathedral in Savannah — completed in 2000.
Robert Naftzger is one of three men from his company who are working here. Two Columbus businesses, Alexander Electric and Phillips Construction Company, are also laboring on the project.
Naftzger said before he begins such a project, he investigates the site's history and decorative scheme. Another man who's working with him is artist Will Kolstad. On a recent weekday, Kolstad was mixing paint samples based on colors the church had chosen — deep blues and browns. He's also made pencil sketches of the interior, and printed a computer-generated rendition of what the room will look like when finished. Every place he works is different, namely how "the natural light affects the stained glass," he said.
In a Columbus Ledger column from 1980, the year of the 100th anniversary of the church, writer Sara Spano likened Holy Family to an elegant old lady. "Some of us who have known her a long time think she gets better looking as the years go by," Spano wrote. Holy Family had a large celebration dinner that year at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center. It was the first and only Catholic Church in the area until 1958.
Bill Miles, a member of Holy Family for more than 30 years, said it's a bit different to be worshipping in the temporary space and that everyone is looking forward to moving back across the street. But also, people have taken the move in stride, he said.
"You don't have the pews and when you would normally kneel, you sit or stand," Miles said. "It's a little tight in there, but everyone seems to have adjusted." Another practical change: Patterson has to remember to look into the camera when he's preaching, to accommodate those watching the TV in the overflow room. Sometimes he forgets, or offers a wave.
Meanwhile the priest looks forward to seeing and unveiling the finished product.
"Hopefully, Holy Family will still be a place where people of all faiths feel welcome, to come in and worship or say a prayer," he said.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF HOLY FAMILY
Address: 320 12th St. (Corner of Veterans and 12th Street)
1835: The church was first established as St. Phillip and James
1880: The Church of the Holy Family was dedicated. It was designed by Daniel Matthew Foley.
1980: Church artifacts from 1880 were unearthed from a cornerstone. These included two Catholic newspapers and a Catholic directory. The church also marked the anniversary with a gala at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center.
1980: The church steeple underwent major repairs.
1988: The sanctuary received new carpeting and paint job.