Part of the Diocese of New Ulm, St. Aloysius Church in Olivia Minnesota has been recognized as an outstanding renovation. I came across it through a video on the web page for Station KSTP Channel 5 in the Twin Cities. The video, part of KSTP’s Pursuit of Excellence series, shows how and what the Olivians did to make this church beautiful again. Go see the video (which can’t be embedded) for a view of the project, of the parishioners, of the building and of the priest who kicked it off.
Here’s the recipe for the project:
- Take one small town of 2,500 souls in the rural part of Minnesota: Olivia, the Corn Capital of the World.
- Add a beautiful 1925 building in Italian Romanesque style. Make sure the inside is damaged from water leaks.
- Redo the interior in the mid-70’s, painting the polychrome statues white. As they say in the video “There was no warmth, no color here.”
- Neglect the physical plant for many years.
- Add a new priest, Father Paul van de Crommert.
- Inspire the parishioners and raise funds.
- As Larry the Cable Guy says, “Get ‘er Done”
As the KSTP video shows, the results are stunningly beautiful. These quotes from a feature in the West Central Tribune tell the story:
Some have described it as “divinely inspired” work. Looking about the bright, colorful and cathedral like surroundings of the restored church, the Rev. Paul van de Crommert puts it this way: “God’s hand is in it.”
The Olivia parish invested $1.2 million in the restoration. Almost all of the money was raised in donations. Van de Crommert said that only about 10 to 12 percent of the project needs to be financed.
There are no more than 480 families in the parish. The contributions have come largely from families who are middle to lower middle class in their economic earnings, according to the pastor.
The renovation touched every part of the church, from restoring the color to the statues to repairing the stained glass windows to cleaning and restoring the huge canvas renditions of Biblical scenes.
“You can’t help but believe in God that humanity has the power to create something like this,” said van de Crommert of the beauty found in the church.
He cannot easily explain how a small, rural parish was motivated to take on an undertaking so large as this. But he said the parish has been very united, despite the warnings he had received from other priests that nothing divides a parish like a building project.
Like the priest who inspired the parish 80 years ago, van de Crommert has put his own heart into the project. The parish contracted with the architect Angelo Gherardi— renowned for his work for two popes — to design the restoration. But Gherardi is expected to tell those who gather to celebrate the church on Sunday that his role was merely to “clean up” the drawings of Van de Crommert.
Van de Crommert said the importance of the restoration has more to do with faith than architecture. Whether it’s because of the unity fostered by the project or the sheer beauty of the surroundings, church attendance and participation has steadily grown through the seven years of the project, according to the priest. The parish has been able to welcome new members, and has reached out to the growing number of Latino residents of the region, he added.
It took seven years to restore the church to her former splendor, but they did a great job. I agree with Emily at Shrine of the Holy Whapping that the Olivians seemed to get “an awful lot of bang for their bucks”.