138 year old St. Columban church building in Chillicothe restored

St. Columban Parish recently completed a $900,000 restoration project for the interior of the church. (Sara Kraft/Key photo)

By Sara Kraft

“When I saw the completed church, oh my gosh, my jaw dropped!” explained St. Columban parishioner Brenda O’Halloran. The 138 year old church building in Chillicothe just completed a four month, $900,000 interior restoration. “My parents came over (to see the church) and my mother stood there looking and said, ‘This is just like heaven.’ Well, that’s the best compliment you could give it.”

The process to restore the church was more complicated than simply scraping the walls and repainting. The project really began in 2014 when the roofs on the church and rectory were replaced with steel roofs. The former leaking asphalt shingle roof on the church had caused water damage to the interior of the church. The fifteen year old interior paint on the church was cracked and peeling and the brick covered with plaster walls were compromised by the water damage. That is when St. Columban parishioners initially began exploring what would become the $900,000 restoration project to bring back the original vision for the church interior. The parish, founded in 1857, is the third oldest parish in our diocese and will celebrate their 160th anniversary in November.

The vision of the parish restoration committee comprised of Mary Triplett, Bill Haynes, Steve and Shelley Tate, Kim Murrell, Mary Pauley, and John Marcolla was to make the church be a bit of heaven on earth in accord with the vision of the original architect. In 2015, they decided to hire Conrad Schmitt Studios from Wisconsin to handle the restoration. Conrad Schmitt Studios was selected for their experience, artistic skills, and their understanding of Catholic worship and theology. The committee knew truly understanding the Catholic faith would be essential in capturing their vision in the completed restoration. Additionally, a separate scaffolding company was hired out of Kansas City. The scaffolding was over four stories high and took a month to completely set up.

It was important to parishioners that they didn’t just repaint, but fix the underlying problems that caused the damage. “We did the renovation to last a hundred years. We didn’t just do another paint job,” explained Bill Haynes.

In March 2016, St. Columban began fundraising and soliciting donations. In March 2017, work was begun. In order to accommodate the construction work, weekend Masses were held in the gymnasium at Bishop Hogan Memorial School for four months as parishioners sat on metal folding chairs. Daily Masses were held in the sacristy, and funeral Masses were celebrated at the local funeral home.

“Just like when the whole parish worked together to get the parish built, we had to work together to get the restoration completed,” explained Brenda. Brenda wrote a soon-to-be published historical fiction novel, A Duty Sanctioned, to help tie the sacrifices the first parishioners made to build the church to the responsibility of parishioners today to care for the church. The book can currently be read at www.stcolumbanonline.org.

“Because our parish is as old as it is, parishioners’ ancestors literally built this church with their hands. There’s a great love in this community for this church. It’s ‘our turn’ to renew our parish in the spirit of our ancestors,” explained Fr. Benjamin Kneib, pastor of St. Columban parish. “Our ancestors gave to the best of their ability, so we gave the best we can. The restoration is a vehicle to show our love and worship of God as well.”

Parishioners agree the completed restoration interior looks like a totally different church. Previously, the church interior was a simple three colors. Now, the church has been restored to its decorative height, most similar to the appearance of the church in 1910 or 1913.

Interior details were carefully selected to showcase the parish’s rich history. Red roses and white lilies were painted on the high ceilings, similar to the paint a hundred years ago. Red roses were chosen because red is the color of the shedding of the blood of the martyrs who died for the faith. White lilies are a sign of purity and typically are shown with St. Joseph in particular. The parish had asked the intercession of St. Columban and St. Joseph, patron of the universal church, for the successful completion of this restoration project.

Around the sanctuary, there are four different repeating medallions. The first consists of the coat of arms of the Franciscans who served St. Columban parish for many years both as priests and sisters teaching the schoolchildren. The two arms crossed are for St. Francis of Assisi who bore the stigmata and Jesus Christ himself. The second medallion has IHS – the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Greek. The third medallion is a chalice in remembrance of the Blood of Christ spilled for us. The fourth medallion bears the letters S.J. for St. Joseph. The lilies symbolize the purity of St. Joseph.

Additionally, the high altar statues are over a hundred years old and were restored by Connie Malewski, mother of Father Christian Malewski, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in St. Joseph, and her sister Kathy Hesse. Images of Jesus ascending into heaven and the Assumption of Mary were painted near the high altar.

At times, it was a challenge to use black and white photographs to determine exactly how the church looked a hundred years ago. Stenciling was picked out to be close to the design a hundred years ago, but guesses were made. Eventually, Conrad Schmidt Studios uncovered some of the original stenciling and the design was changed to more closely model the original design.

“When we had church in the gymnasium, I realized the building does lend itself to the spirituality of the Mass,” explained Bill. “It’s kind of amazing how the restoration has drawn people back to St. Columban.” To showcase the completed restoration to the greater community, St. Columban held an open house on August 5, attended by over two hundred community members. Additionally, prayers were offered during a holy hour of thanksgiving and Mass concelebrated by former pastor Fr. Matthew Rotert, former pastor Fr. Allan Stetz, O.S.B., and Chillicothe native Fr. David Holloway.

“We have great hopes this restoration will draw people and expose them to what the grace of God can do in their lives,” explained Fr. Kneib.



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November 29, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph