January 30, 2015
Parishioners of St. Wenceslaus Church in Dickinson were greeting by the ushers with a heart-felt “welcome home” as they entered the church after a 10-month absence. The newly-renovated church was dedicated with a Mass on Jan. 17 with Bishop David Kagan presiding.
“We didn’t lay any bricks, but it’s unrecognizable,” explained Monsignor Patrick Schumacher, who has been pastor at St. Wenceslaus since 2011.
While the church structure remained intact, nearly every part of the interior was changed, modified or updated. The parish that is home to 800 families hadn’t undergone a significant update since it’s construction in 1956. Funding for the $3 million renovation began with a capital campaign kicked off at the church’s centennial celebration in 2012.
The church’s electrical system needed replacement and the roof, lighting, plumbing and sound systems were in need of updates and repair, so it was perfect timing for a complete transformation. And Msgr. Schumacher was up to the task. He oversaw a major renovation at his former church, St. Joseph in Mandan, in 2010. Mandan architect Al Fitterer worked with Monsignor on both projects.
“I learned a lot from the renovation at St. Joe’s. However, that renovation happened quickly in 100 days,” he explained. “For this one, it’s taken us 10 months.”
Bishop Kagan recognized Monsignor Schumacher’s valued efforts and leadership in seeing this great project through to completion. “It is a tremendous undertaking and while he has had experience in this area, every such project presents its own challenges,” Bishop said. “Monsignor has done an excellent job and service to his parish and to our diocese. The example of St. Wenceslaus will be used in the future by other pastors and parishes who wish to renovate and beautify their parish churches.”
Adding 50 tons of marble
Monsignor has been involved in nearly every detail from the selection of each different type of the 50 tons of marble to the delicate placement of the relics in each of the alters.
The marble itself, which covers the floor, main altar, communion rail, ambo and baptismal font, is the largest visible transformation. Much of the marble is of Spanish origin, but also features empress green marble from Asia and white marble from Italy.
Inlaid floor medallions
To appreciate that attention to detail, one needs to walk down the center aisle and view the intricate medallions embedded in the floor. The smaller medallions depict the cardinal virtues—prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance.
Monsignor Schumacher designed each medallion with tradition and great meaning in mind. Each piece of marble, brass, quartz or glass incorporated into the designs was purposely selected.
Starting at the back of the main body of the church at the baptismal font where the virtue of prudence is the first to greet those entering. The design features a mirror with a serpent around the handle. Prudence is defined as right reason in action. Right reason is possible when one lives the ancient imperative “know thyself” signified by the mirror. The mirror also allows one to see behind oneself to avoid repeating past mistakes. Its handle being attacked by the serpent reminds us that the mirror can be used for vanity.
Next is the medallion of justice depicted by the symbol of the scale. This virtue, defined as willing the good of your neighbor, renders each one his or her due as the scale signifies measured equality.
Following is a large medallion honoring St. Wenceslaus, then fortitude and temperance. Fortitude, or courage, is firmness in difficulties. This is depicted by an image of a lion. Monsignor chose the lion to make an impression on children, in particular, because courage is not simply one of the virtues, but is required to live every virtue.
The medallion representing temperance depicts an old wagon wheel, which Monsignor said was a nod to the early settlers of this state. Temperance, or moderation in the pursuit of pleasures, is often symbolized with a wheel, for just as a wheel must be balanced, so too temperance keeps our life in balance and preserves inner order.
Across the front of the church, larger medallions devoted to faith, hope and charity are embedded in the floor just before the main altar. Faith is depicted with a lighted lamp, while hope is shown as an anchor. The medallion depicting charity is that of a mother pelican feeding her young birds.
The symbol of the pelican is rooted in a legend of early Christianity, in the time of famine when the mother pelican would wound herself, striking her breast with her beak to feed her young with her blood to prevent starvation. Given this tradition, it’s easy to see why Monsignor Schumacher specifically designed this medallion to be placed where the faithful would be standing when they receive the Eucharist—the lifeblood of the Church.
Another highlight in the floor near the front of the church are two medallions that incorporate pieces of flooring from St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. “People will be walking on the floor of Rome,” Monsignor Schumacher said excitedly.
A piece of marble flooring, a personal and dear possession of Monsignor’s that he acquired while living in Rome 20 years ago, was cut and used. Inscriptions on each are in Latin; “A Pavimento Basilicae Vaticanae” which translated in English is “From the Floor of the Vatican Basilica.”
At the front of the sanctuary is one of the more traditional elements of the design—a communion rail. Monsignor Schumacher explained that the purpose of the communion rail is more for aesthetics than for function as it serves to tie all the different marble together.
Shrines dedicated to Mary and Joseph flank the main altar. The one-of-a-kind statues atop the shrines were hand carved in Italy from a piece of lindenwood. Mary, adorned in vibrant blue, is holding the baby Jesus. Joseph is holding the offering prescribed for the poor of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons in a cage. Above each of the statues is a prayer—the Hail Mary above the Mary statue and the Prayer of St. Joseph the worker above the Joseph statue. Both prayers are written in the Czech language in homage to the ethnic heritage of St. Wenceslaus church’s founders.
Main altar as a focal point
The focal point of the sanctuary is the main altar. Columns of red marble from Spain frame the hand-carved depiction of the Last Supper on the front. The white marble comprising the altar is from Asia. The mensa, or table-top, weighs in at 3,500 pounds. Just behind the altar is the towering baldacchino of which Monsignor designed every detail. The large fixed canopy structure encompasses the crucifix and the tabernacle at the center of the altar serving as a grand centerpiece of the entire design.
The origin of the baldacchino dates back to the first centuries of the Church, or even further. In ancient Middle East and Asia, it was common for kings and emperors to sit on a throne under a fabric canopy. The word baldacchino comes from the Italian word for Baghdad, pointing toward Middle Eastern origin. The canopy was a sign of honor, which represented the majesty of the ruler beneath. Only fitting then that the baldacchino should surround Jesus—the ultimate king.
The back of the dome of the baldacchino is adorned with hidden “fish scales” as a symbol of Christianity. In early Christianity, since it was not an obvious religious symbol to persecutors, a fish or fish scales were often a “hidden message” known to followers and yet not to reveal the church or person as Christian. The inside of the dome of the baldacchino was hand-pained with 23k gold leaf, as were the 24 stars on the ceiling of the sanctuary. Each half of the sanctuary ceiling features 12 stars—for the 12 tribes of Israel and for the 12 Disciples.
Four relics placed
First-class relics from four saints have been placed in the church, each with specific reason. The St. Wenceslaus relic, a bone fragment of the saint, was placed in the main altar. The relic of St. Albert the Great was placed in the altar of repose. St. Albert, known for his study of Aristotle is the patron saint of students. He taught St. Thomas Aquinas in regard to the virtues (tied to the medallions in the floor depicting the virtues).
The shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary holds the relic of St. John Vianney, who is the patron saint of priests. The motivation of placing this here was that it signifies Mary as the mother of priests when she “gave birth” to the priesthood by saying yes to God who chose her to bear the Son of Man. The relic of Pope St. Pius X was placed in the shrine of St. Joseph. St. Pius’s given name was Joseph and he was the founder of the Diocese of Bismarck in 1910.
Other noteworthy elements
Everywhere you look, down to the floor or up to the ceiling, it’s easy to see the attention to detail throughout the design. An impressive mural, painted by Minneapolis-area artist Craig Gallagher, adorns the ceiling in the center of the main body of the church. The mural, painted on canvas, measures 22 feet in diameter and depicts St. Wenceslaus being received into heaven by Christ. He is seen leaving behind his earthly possessions of his horse, crown, sword and crest on the steps where he was martyred.
A new electronic organ was installed in the balcony. This, along with a revamped sound system and new hymnals, will make a profound impact on the liturgical music, enhancing the beauty of the Masses.
One of the more prominent features of the church prior to the recent renovation was the colorful stained-glass windows that line both sides of the nave. However, over the years, the weather and elements had aged them and diminished their vibrant colors. As part of the recent renovation, the windows were removed and shipped to a company in Minneapolis where they were releaded and refurbished. When reinstalled, the windows were backed with a clear, reinforced glass to both highlight and protect them.
Thanks to these beautiful windows and well-placed LED lighting, a once dark interior is now bright and welcoming to all who enter.
“The renovation will have a real and positive impact on all of the parishioners of St. Wenceslaus in the sense that to beautify a parish church will not only draw them to spend more time in private and communal prayer, but it will definitely further elevate their minds and hearts to God in their liturgies,” noted Bishop Kagan. “As Pope Benedict said on more than one occasion, the beautiful in our sacred rites and art and architecture always draws to the Author of all that is good and beautiful. That is what I know will happen for the entire parish of St. Wenceslaus.”
Monsignor Schumacher expressed his appreciation to Fr. Shannon Lucht and the parishioners of the Queen of Peace Church for welcoming those from St. Wenceslaus to hold Masses during the renovation. “It served as the perfect temporary home for us,” he said.
Now, the parishioners of St. Wenceslaus are right back home where they belong. And what a grand welcome they received.