End is Near for Old Church in Le Mars
LE MARS, Iowa (AP) — After 127 years, the old brick walls of St. Joseph Catholic Church of Le Mars will come tumbling down by the end of August to make way for an expanded parking lot for the new church, being built just northeast of the old structure and now about 75 percent complete, said the Rev. Kevin Richter, church pastor.
The new St. Joseph Church, costing between $9.5 and $10 million, will retain much of what made the old church great, somewhat lessening the emotional impact for lifelong parishioners who have received all of their sacraments in the old St. Joe's, Richter said. Besides a new church, there will be a parish hall, parish offices and a chapel for daily Mass.
It was an emotional time for parishioners the weekend of June 16-17, when they attended their final Masses in the old building.
"Most people understand well the need, the fact that we have to do this," Richter said of the problems with the old building's bricks. "And they find comfort in the fact that again we're taking as many of the central pieces from this church into the new church building. That helps. But it was important for us to do a closure experience with them."
Richter pointed out that the new church is designed around the high altar from the old church, which will be transferred to the new building along with the two side altars, ambo (lectern), pulpit and bells.
"The stained glass windows have all been reconfigured for use in the new church. Even the baptismal font, the top portion of that, is a central feature on the new baptismal font," Richter said.
Just days after the final Mass at old St. Joe's, workers began this critical work.
"One of the big question marks for us in the whole process is, how does the old high altar come apart? But in those first days last week, they took it apart," he said. "It's all laid out on the floor of the old church and came apart very, very well. The guys immediately kind of figured out the puzzle of how it's put together. We all felt better about it because we were afraid it was nailed together."
Workers are now touching up the paint on the high altar and cleaning it up. They expect to re-assemble it in the new church after the Fourth of July, he said.
Richter said Kellen Excavation LLC of Le Mars was picked as the contractor for this excavation because of the care they promised when taking down the old church, piece by piece, salvaging what they could as the company did for the old Gehlen school building a few years ago.
"They recycle everything and separate it all out. So it will take a while for them to gut the building, to take the shingles off and then to take all the wood off the roof and cut out the wood floor and salvage all that out. The pews have already been taken out," he said.
About 40 of the pews were sold to parishioners. Others were transferred to the Gehlen chapel, and a number of pews will be refinished for the chapel of the new church that will be used for daily Mass.
"The goal is, by the end of August, the church is completely gone and the hole is filled," Richter said of the pending demolition..
Even the bricks will find new life. Once the brick walls are pushed in, the bricks will be crushed and re-used.
While waiting for the new church to be finished, parishioners are attending Mass in the Gehlen Catholic School gym.
The new church will be dedicated on Oct. 21 by Bishop R. Walker Nickless of the Diocese of Sioux City.
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