Renovation project builds community at St. Paul’s, Danville

By: By Jennifer Willems

DANVILLE — Giving thanks is something that comes naturally to the members of St. Paul’s Parish here.

Not only have they been marking the 100th anniversary of their founding this year, but they have a beautifully redecorated church in which to do it.
That will stand them in good stead as they prepare for their next celebration: the centennial of the Spanish mission-style church in 2013.

“We have some really talented parishioners,” Father Gregory Nelson, pastor, told The Catholic Post. “Between Jim and Pat Sheehan (the contractors) and the other parishioners they pretty much did everything other than lay the carpet and do the electrical work — and Jim did some of the electrical work in the end.”

The goal was to make the inside of the church brighter and warmer and a more inviting space, he said.

“We also wanted to make it theologically meaningful — not that it wasn’t, but to enhance that a little bit more.”

The Sheehans, owners of James C. Sheehan in Danville, have been members of the parish since 1972 and were involved in the planning for the renovations long before Father Nelson came to St. Paul’s in 2005.

Their reputation for craftsmanship made their fellow parishioners eager to volunteer during the two-year project, Father Nelson said.

“The carpet was old and tired and dirty and the front wall . . . had remnants of an organ that was going to be up there,” Sheehan said. “There was just a small cross attached to the wall. It did not look special at all.”

“It was the original crucifix,” Father Nelson explained, “but before they had different things around it that made it look like it was larger. The organ project kind of changed all that. (The crucifix) was put up there as a temporary solution. We needed a new plan.”

They got more than they bargained for, he said.

Sheehan used wood paneling as a backdrop for the new crucifix, which is 14 feet long and now draws all eyes upon entering the church. Donated, it required some restoration but now looks like it has always been there, according to the contractor.

“The crucifix has certainly been the central point. That tends to be a favorite with parishioners,” Father Nelson said, noting that everything else in the sanctuary is connected to it.

“That’s why Jim did all of the woodwork the way he did, to tie it all together so the focal point would be the crucifix. That’s the main thrust of Paul’s theology — the cross,” he said.

The crucifix also ties together the stained glass window above it, which depicts Jesus’ agony in the garden, and the refurbished altar area, Father Nelson told The Post.

“This way we could highlight the paschal mystery better — the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus,” he said.

Sheehan said that is especially evident from the balcony. Looking down you can see how the wood floor of the sanctuary is surrounded by carpeting on all sides.

“The altar has its own place now,” he said. “It’s eye-catching.”

Another special addition to the sanctuary is the John Paul II Stations of the Cross. Designed by John Sherman, a professor of graphic design at the University of Notre Dame, and executed by Trigard, a Danville company specializing in bronze plaques, each of the Stations has 23 different languages.

“That makes them a little bit unique,” Father Nelson said.

They didn’t replace the Stations of the Cross that had been hanging in the church for so long, however. Refinished so the characters could be seen and identified better, those Stations continue to surround the parishioners in the pews.

The project also included removing the radiators and improving the sound system and lighting in the church. Since the major work was completed, parishioners Suzie Berkes and Mark Harden have produced a baptismal font specially designed to match the new colors in the church, and a base to hold it.

“Being able to have people with this incredible talent in this parish who can do this kind of thing and work together to contribute to something that that went so smoothly and have these kind of results, that’s very satisfying,” Father Nelson said.

“People say it’s surpassed their expectations,” he added. “They appreciate what it’s done for their prayer.”

Father Nelson noted that the project has not only enhanced the liturgy, but the overall life of the parish as well.

“I think people have seen that if we can accomplish this, we can accomplish other things, too,” he told The Post. “That was something we didn’t really foresee when we started it.”

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