The St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church will be taken apart piece by piece and a new church built in its place to accommodate the increasing parish community.
The formal capital campaign to raise funds for the new church building will begin with a “Diamonds and Denim” dinner and dance gala on May 5.
Reconstruction will widen and lengthen the footprint of the church and bring it up to code.
The plan is to salvage as much as possible - old timbers will be reused in some fashion, stained glass and Stations of the Cross will be saved, possibly along with the crucifix, pews, rafters and baptism. Electric code, handicap accessibility, and restrooms will meet current standards.
The unique bell tower, a signature feature of the church, will be lifted off, set on the ground nearby during church construction and its own refurbishment. It will be fixed in place on the new structure.
Deacon Jim Kaney, part of the pastoral team and head of the building committee, said remodeling the facility would not change it enough to meet the needs of the church body.
“It does not get us where we want to be as far as the facility and access for people with disabilities,” he said. “Now everything is up and there is no easy way for a person in a wheelchair to get in. The new facility will be all ground level with no ramps or stairs, our aisles will be wider, and the bathrooms will be ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible.”
Kaney said even able-bodied people struggle to use the current bathroom because it is so narrow.
There are also issues with the building exterior.
“On-going maintenance issues are becoming bigger as we go – siding, roofing … it is time,” he said. “It is a necessary project. It will be the same but even more beautiful.”
The Reverend Jim Connor said he believes most of the parish is excited for the change.
“Change is never really easy,” he said. “The architect said ‘I want this to look so much like the old one that six months after the new one is up people would drive buy and look at the new facility and say ‘That looks different, I wonder if they painted?’”
Connor said the exterior and interior will be similar to what is there now.
Kaney said he has visited with neighbors and engaged them in the process.
The church has not yet begun the permitting process with the city.
“Our architect has a couple more things to do then we will submit it to the city,” he said. “Then the entire surrounding community has time for input.”
Kaney said preliminary talks with the city have been good and he has appreciated their helpful suggestions.
He said there will be a bulldozer for the foundation only.
The timeline is dependent on the gala and the rest of the fundraising but the project is planned to begin January 2019.
Catholicism came to Hamilton 1891 when families began meeting in the home of Willie and Rose Brennan at 205 S 3rd Street. Jesuit Priest, Fr. Alexander Diomedi, secured a block on 5th Street for a church from Marcus Daly. In 1896, under the leadership of Fr. J. Guidi, St. Francis of Assisi Church was built in the Queen Anne Cape Cod style at a cost of nearly $5,000.
Sister Margaret Hogan, on the St. Francis staff since 1983, said she has chosen not to be a part of the planning or the gala event.
“I’m in awe of the footwork and certainly people have had the opportunity for input,” she said. “I have great respect for the people who have done so much work already and I think it is meant to be.”
During the construction process church services will be held in the Pastoral Life Center which was built next to the church in 2006.
Connor said the architect did a great job in matching the center to the church.
“Our challenge now is to do the same thing in reverse,” he said. “I think the architect we engaged is very sensitive to that.”
Connor said the church is also sensitive to the age of the facility.
“It was built by 50 families and has served us well for 122 years,” Connor said. “We are trying to build on their vision and build for the future taking all that wisdom that has been handed on to us to make it more functional and more beautiful.”
Hogan called the Pastoral Life Center “neighborhood friendly.”
“The church will be as well,” she said.
Member Pat Ryan Swindler said the choice between remodeling and starting over was difficult. After two years of discussion and lists of pro versus con by church members, the reality of cost and convenience settled the matter – it was time to build a new church.
Initially she wanted to keep the old church but when she saw the artist renderings she changed her mind.
“It will be beautiful and the reconfiguration is totally different,” she said. “There is even a space for the Father and Altar Boys to put their vestments on without having to run around outside when it's 20 below, go around and come in through the back.”
She said adding stained glass windows will be a project down the road.
“Saint Francis of Assisi is our patron saint and we would love to have a stained glass window of him,” she said. “Unless someone was generous and gave us lots of money up front we will have to wait many years - stained glass windows are extremely expensive.”
Pat Ryan Swindler is heading up the fundraising kick-off - the gala event with a gourmet dinner, dancing, silent auction, live auction and a bucket auction.
“Obviously the parishioners will be giving and whether it is $5 or $50,000 I think you feel more connected," Swindler said. "You feel more like it's yours if you contribute something. Save the date for May 5.”