Father Shaun Wesley, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church in Carlisle, challenged his parishioners, and they answered his call.
The Lonoke County church, which he said some of his flock described as “dumpy,” needed a facelift, so he asked each family to donate $1,000 to help renovate the church.
“Some families were able to donate more than that — even significantly more than that – but I would say we had over 80 percent of the parish participate in that campaign, which is really a tremendous level of participation,” Father Wesley said. “Normally when you have a fundraising campaign, you're lucky to get half the people to participate. We asked families to donate $100 over 10 months to help them help us in reaching our goal.”
Combined with funds collected from years of tamale sales and their Mardi Gras fundraiser, the parish completed a $120,000 church beautification.
St. Rose Church was designed and built in the mid-century modern style in the 1950s and an expansion was added in the 1980s. Very little had been done to update the inside of the church in the 40-plus years since, Father Wesley said.
His goal in the renovation was to stay true to the building’s original design and aesthetic.
“I didn't want to do anything that was going to look out of place,” he said, “so we really tried to do things that still fit the space but just brought it to a higher, nicer level.”
The renovation began June 19. Pews were moved to the parish hall to be re-upholstered, and the buckling, brown wall-to-wall carpet was replaced with natural stone travertine flooring. The dark brown stained wood walls behind the crucifix, tabernacle and statues of Mary and Joseph at the front of the church were replaced with stacked travertine, and other woodwork in the church that had been painted various shades of brown were re-stained or painted to give the space a more cohesive look.
New carved wood covers replaced metal air conditioning grates on the walls at the front of the church and the brown framing that holds paneled ceiling tiles was painted white. The doors to the church, which were damaged in an attempted break-in, were replaced. Additionally, the church had its tabernacle and Mary and Joseph statues refurbished, replacing a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe with an official replica from the Basilica in Mexico City. Celestine Eichler, a parishioner of St. Joseph Church in Fayetteville, Father Wesley’s former parish, painted an image of the church’s patroness, St. Rose of Lima, to hang in the sanctuary opposite Our Lady. A bench for altar servers that matched the priest’s and deacon’s chairs was also added.
“We got rid of a lot of brown,” he said. “Instead of having like three or four different shades of brown in the church, we're now down to two. It’s lightened things up tremendously and really set off the statues, tabernacle and the crucifix.”
While the plan was to hold Mass in the parish hall during the renovation, the pews needed to be taken apart to be re-upholstered. St. Rose’s parishioners temporarily attended Father Wesley’s other church, Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church in Slovak, about 22 miles from Carlisle, for six weeks.
The congregation was able to return home Sept. 26. In the first Mass in the renovated church, Bishop Anthony B. Taylor was on hand to confirm six students.
“Our church was in great need of a facelift, and we worked for so many years to raise the funds needed,” said Beth Plafcan, an adult convert who was baptized and confirmed at St. Rose in 1992. “Father Shaun and the parish council did a wonderful job. Everything just looks so fresh and light and new. The update is absolutely gorgeous and makes us all so proud of our little church.”
“Everyone is just very happy and very proud of our space,” Father Wesley said. “The response has really been overwhelmingly positive, and everybody is thinking it’s a really beautiful place and so much improved from what it was before.”
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