Sanctuary makeover is an extraordinary work of art

Lisa Johnston |

With a jar of gold latex paint in hand, Father Raymond Hager carefully applied the finishing touches to a 5-foot statue of St. Barnabas. Within a matter of weeks, the figure was transformed from a solid piece of acacia wood to a work of art.

This certainly wasn't the first time the priest witnessed something transform from ordinary to extraordinary.

St. Barnabas Parish in O'Fallon recently underwent an extreme makeover, with a major remodeling of its sanctuary. Included in the transformation is a newly constructed wooden altar, statues, reredos, communion rail, ambo, side shrines and new marble flooring, made possible in part by help from parishioners and donations.

Best of all, said Father Hager, people have commented positively about the church's new look. "One of the best compliments we got were people who said, 'Father, it looks like it's always been here.'"

The parish celebrated the remodeling with a Mass April 29, including a dedication of the new altar and blessing of the sanctuary and tabernacle. Auxiliary Bishop Mark Rivituso consecrated the altar with the holy chrism oil.

St. Barnabas was established in 1961 in what is now the northern part of O'Fallon to accommodate the rapid expansion of Catholics in that area of St. Charles County. The parish opened a school in 1963, but a fire in 1981 devastated the church and school building, forcing a temporary closure. It's been 37 years since the church has undergone a major renovation.

Plans for the transformation began last summer, when Father Hager recognized the need for a new communion rail. The priest has been offering the Traditional Latin Mass at 10 a.m. Sundays since January 2015. Scheduled between two English-language Masses, they "were starting to run together," he said.

A longer communion rail was needed to accommodate more people at the Latin Mass. Some Sundays, the Latin Mass is the most well-attended, with an average of 150-200 people, largely younger families. They have contributed to a rejuvenation of the parish, he added.

Father Hager worked with Brendan Hamtil, owner of Fynders Keepers Brokerage of Stilwell, Kan., a company that links buyers and sellers with religious goods, to find a communion rail. Hamtil located one, along with a matching ambo, from a now closed church in Connecticut.

"Things just kept falling into place, one thing after another," Father Hager said. "I was praying about it, not only what would be best for the parish but also what God wanted."

The other centerpiece of the sanctuary is a rood screen (a large wooden screen used in medieval times to separate the nave of the church from the sanctuary), which Hamtil found at an old Episcopal church in Maine. A carpenter and parishioner, Ted McCullough, transformed it into a reredos with niches for statues, Crucifixion scene and a place for the tabernacle.

The custom altar was constructed by Corey Clark of Clark Carpentry and Woodworking LLC, of Berlin Township, Mich., and designed to match the rest of the woodwork in the sanctuary.

Hamtil of Fynders Keepers also connected Father Hager with a studio in Italy to create the 5-foot statues of St. Barnabas and St. Louis. The priest, a former draftsman and fine arts enthusiast, was assisted by artist Linda Smith of St. Joseph Parish in Cottleville and Darlene Hartman of St. Barnabas in painting the statues.

It's a craft he's learned over time, dating to his seminary days, when he rescued a dilapidated statue of St. Aloysius Gonzaga and restored him. "I really didn't know how to do a lot of this stuff," he said. "I just prayed. And I was helped on how to do it. It all just kind of came together."

"God has put people in my life to help me," he said. "God knows what I want to do ... and what I want to do is glorify Him in any way I can. With the way this has all come together, I see God's hand in this." 

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