By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
WINDSOR — The pastor who started the whole thing put it bluntly.
“It looked like a chicken coop,” said Father Tom Hermes, describing the former St. Bartholomew Church that served the Catholic community of Windsor for 58 years.
Not that they were ever not proud of the nine Catholic families in 1946 who were the foundation of the new Catholic mission in Windsor. They did what they could.
But the some 75 Catholic families who now call St. Bartholomew their spiritual home decided to do more. And on July 19, their dream was realized when Bishop Robert W. Finn consecrated a new – and proper — St. Bartholomew’s.
No, it is not one of the grand cathedrals of Europe.
But with much sacrifice, they built a gem — a small (capacity about 250) country church with a steeple and a cross, and an elegant yet simple interior that lacks nothing for beauty, from its polished wood ceiling, to its stained glass windows representing the sacraments, to its “must-have” ceramic tile floor. Even architect Vince LaTona was beaming at what everyone working together was able to produce on a budget of $600,000.
It wasn’t quick, and it wasn’t easy, said Ron Schuler, who helped lead the drive to build the new St. Bartholomew.
More than a decade ago, when Father Hermes was serving the mission as pastor of Holy Rosary in Clinton, the people expressed their desire for a new, more beautiful space to celebrate their one Sunday Mass.
Father Hermes’ message was simple. Give generously, spend only what you must, save the rest, then we’ll go from there, Schuler said.
“Father Tom encouraged frugality,” Schuler said. “He wouldn’t spend any more than he had to on anything.”
By adding any one time gifts such as bequests from wills, St. Bartholomew soon had $250,000 saved, enough to launch a formal building drive, which raised enough money to borrow with confidence the remaining costs.
“Everyone had to donate,” Schuler said. “We have lots of farmers, cattle ranchers and so on. They all participated.”
Father Hermes was there on July 19 to celebrate. So was Father Phil Egan, who took over in 2005, and Msgr. Bradley Offutt, who succeeded Father Egan in January.
“Be proud and evangelize well,” Father Egan told the congregation that packed the new church. “People will be coming to see what happened at St. Bartholomew in Windsor.”
Bishop Finn told the congregation that they have built their new home not for themselves, but a worthy space for generations to come.
“Faith finds a way,” he said. “I commend you for your generosity and zeal which shows itself in this new House of God.”
The bishop called July 19 a “new start for St. Bartholomew.”
“I urge you to use the occasion of this church’s dedication to renew your own dedication to Jesus Christ, to the one holy, Catholic and apostolic church, and to the life of the Catholic community on this memorable day,” he said.
“The focus of these sacred rites is to consecrate the work of your hands, this stone and glass and wood that you have worked so hard and have made so many sacrifices to see established on this holy ground,” Bishop Finn said.
“Here we today invite Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, confident that he hears and accepts our invitation to dwell among us in his Real Presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament, in his Word, in the Universal Church gathered around the successor of St. Peter, in the living stones — his faithful people — the Mystical Body of Christ,” he said.
“The new church is a holy place, marked out and set aside for the celebration of the most extraordinary of realities,” Bishop Finn said.
But as beautiful as the new church is, more important is the worship that will go on for years within its walls.
“In a way similar to that by which a house becomes a home, the holiness of this place will also be verified and intensified by the actus which will continue to be celebrated here, the ecounter with Christ in the church’s sacramental life,” Bishop Finn said.
“Here you will bring your babies for Baptism, and adults will similarly profess their newfound faith on Holy Saturday night,” he said.
“Here you will be reconciled in Confession, and couples will be joined in Holy Matrimony,” he said.
“Families will gather for First Communion and Confirmation. On occasion, the sick will be anointed here, and from this gate of heaven, your beloved dead will be commended to God’s mercy,” he said.
“The life and prayer of the St. Bartholomew community will reach its crescendo in the Mass, where united in that heavenly cloud of witnesses, our eyes and hearts will be lifted to remind us of the eternal destiny to which we are called, and in hope of which, we will lay down our lives in union with the saving sacrifice of Christ,” Bishop Finn said.
Bishop Finn reminded the congregation that the Gospel of John says Jesus once said of their patron apostle, “There is no guile in him.”
“We ask St. Bartholomew’s intercession that we also will be known as people of truth, without deception, and generous in responding to the Lord,” he said.
“We consecrate this place,” Bishop Finn said. “We set it aside as a sacred place and we as God’s grace to worship him here with authentic faith.”
Bishop Finn also told the congregation that they can always turn to Mary, “our mother in faith.”
“Mary became the first earthly dwelling place for our Lord,” he said. “She welcomed the Word with humility and love. May Mary help us provide here, and in our hearts, a pure and holy place for God,”