Monsignor Donald W. Lammers often pointed to the noble simplicity of Sacred Heart Church in Eldon as an asset to be preserved and refined.
Plans that came together while he was pastor there have been carried out under the leadership of the current pastor, Father Alexander Gabriel.
By the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful to behold.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight traveled to Eldon March 9 to bless the renewed church building and offer Mass in it.
“We have here a church that raises up our souls, minds and even our bodies — through the senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and texture — to heaven,” said Bishop McKnight. “In this sacred place, God blesses us as we give Him our worship and praise.”
“We never, never dreamed that we would have such a beautiful church,” said Fr. Gabriel. “And it is indeed a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful church.”
The bishop blessed water and sprinkled it lavishly onto the building’s walls, its sanctuary furnishings and its people, praying, “May God, the Father of Mercies, dwell in this house of prayer. May the grace of the Holy Spirit cleanse us, for we are the temple of His presence.”
Weekend Masses were offered for several months in the nearby parish hall while the church renovations were taking place.
The extensive renovation included structural repairs to the floor; a newly created area for the choir and accompanists; a new sacristy; a spacious new confessional; upgraded lighting, carpeting and paint; an enlarged gathering space with an outdoor canopy and steeple.
A new crucifix was commissioned for the sanctuary wall, and the Most Blessed Sacrament was moved to an 800-pound marble pedestal that has been solidly anchored behind the altar.
“In the bishop’s presence, let me say that no one ever shall remove Jesus from the center,” said Fr. Gabriel. “God made the entire world Christocentric, with Christ at the center. Therefore, Jesus has to be the first in our church, in our homes, in our community.”
Dating to 1960, Sacred Heart Church is built of brick in the mid-20th-century modern style.
The renovation project — designed by architect Keith Miller and carried out by Johnson Construction, with Brian Reagan as project manager — embraces and refines the best features of that era.
Fr. Gabriel noted that previously, the church had no designated place for parishioners to greet each other upon arriving while maintaining proper silence and reverence in the church proper.
The newly expanded gathering space, separated from the rest of the church by glass doors, now serves as a buffer between the social and the sacred.
“Our focus must be on Jesus and His presence that must lead us to give due reverence to the sanctuary,” Fr. Gabriel noted. “Therefore, I suggest that we genuflect in reverence (all those who can) as we step in to the church and maintain sacred silence.
“From now on, all our conversation before or after Mass will take place in the gathering area, which is spacious enough, but never to be in the church any more. This will allow others who want to continue to pray after Mass to do so comfortably.”
House of God
Concelebrating the Mass with the bishop were Fr. Gabriel, pastor of the Eldon parish and of Our Lady of the Snows parish in Mary’s Home, Msgr. Lammers and Father Frederick Elskamp, former pastors of the Eldon parish; and Benedictine Father Eugene Hensell from St. Meinrad Abbey, who was preaching a parish mission in Eldon and Mary’s Home.
Fourth Degree Knights local assemblies served as the honor guard.
In his homily, Bishop McKnight pointed out that the Church is not made of bricks or stones but of people, with Christ as the head.
And those people are to carry and radiate the presence of Christ beyond the church building’s walls, wherever they go.
“Although the people are the true Church of God, this physical structure is nonetheless a necessary means of evangelization,” he said. “In a very real sense, this church building speaks loudly of your faith, especially its beauty and as a place of quiet prayer and devotion.”
He pointed out that the crucifix is essential for Catholic Christian worship.
“Only through the death and resurrection of our Lord do we have access to the Father and are given the Gift of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “We are not a church of the Gospel of prosperity, but disciples of the Suffering Servant.”
He reminded the people that the things that are most meaningful in life require a great sacrifice.
“And so in our celebration of Mass at this altar, we shall make a sacrifice of praise to God with hearts full of gratitude lifted up to Him,” he said.
Our Lady helped
Fr. Gabriel said that from the moment he was appointed to serve as pastor of Sacred Heart, he entrusted all of the planning and construction work for the renovation project to the intercession of the Blessed Mother.
“She has been the great mother and she has brought forth a beautiful thing for God and for her Son, beyond our imagination,” he said.
Fr. Gabriel pointed out that Fr. Elskamp, who preceded Msgr. Lammers as pastor, first entertained the vision of renewing the church building.
“I was looking for a big space near the entrance where the people could gather before and after Mass,” he recalled.
His successor, Msgr. Lammers, even while experiencing a health setback as pastor, insisted on not losing any time.
“It was he who put all of these thoughts into a plan for consideration,” said Fr. Gabriel. “He had the plan already made when he passed the baton to me.”
Parishioners stepped up with pledges and donations, and many helped with the planning and execution.
“I give thanks to God for His immense blessings upon our church and all those who put in their time, talent and treasure into the project that brought forth wonderful results beyond imagination,” the priest stated.
A beautiful church
Deacon Zuck kept daily tabs on the construction work.
“It seemed like everything fell into place at exactly the right time,” he said.
He reiterated that the crucifix, tabernacle and marbleized white background place the emphasis on Christ.
“That’s what stands out,” he said. “The whole church should be centered around the altar and around Jesus Christ.”
The original light fixtures were refitted with energy-efficient LED bulbs and moved closer to the ceiling.
“That gives it more of a cathedral look,” said Deacon Zuck.
New lights that match the originals were custom made for the gathering area.
A carved wooden eagle, commissioned by the late Father James O’Sullivan, who preceded Fr. Elskamp as pastor, represents St. John the Evangelist.
“His Gospel soars above all the other gospels,” Deacon Zuck noted.
An anonymous donor will pay for two images of angels, one to be placed on each side of the tabernacle, just as God prescribed for the Ark of the Covenant.
“Together, we have made a beautiful church,” said Fr. Gabriel.
Parish council member Bret Powell is pleased at how reverently the Most Blessed Sacrament is emphasized in the renovated Church.
Recalling how Msgr. Lammers would refer lovingly to the building’s elegant simplicity, Mr. Powell hopes the parish will continue beautifying the church while respecting what makes it stand out.
He likened the months of Sundays parishioners spent at Mass in the parish hall to “time in the desert.”
“We had a roof over our head, and everyone fit,” he said. “And it helped make us all the more thankful when we got back into our church.”
Received into the Church with his family in 2015 through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and Children, Mr. Powell and his wife Cortney had their sixth child baptized in the church after the Mass and dinner with Bishop McKnight.
“I can’t think of a better environment in which to raise your kids,” said Mr. Powell. “It’s a great community and it’s been a good experience for all of us.”