By Glenn Rutherford, Record Editor
The new St. Michael Church will be dedicated on Fathers’ Day, June 16, after nearly two years of construction.
Both the parish’s pastor, Father Richard Sullivan, and Brenda Rickert, pastoral associate and director of religious education, say they were looking to produce a “Wow!” factor with construction of the new 32,000-square-foot church.
They can consider that mission accomplished.
“Most people who’ve seen it so far have that kind of reaction to it,” said Rickert while she and Father Sullivan toured the $11 million church with a reporter last week.
“We wanted something warm and welcoming and kind of earthy,” she added, “so there is a lot of wood and stone in the construction and a lot of symbols that relate to water.”
The design of the church is dramatic and evokes the upside-down champagne glass look made famous by Eero Saarinen. The church is circular with a high ceiling, walls of cherry and stone, and seating in pews for 1,200. Another 300 chairs can be added if necessary.
The church, Rickert noted, “is designed backwards.”
What that means is that the church’s main entrance is adjacent to the side closest to the altar, which will sit in the center of the church with a semi-circle of curved pews surrounding it.
The new church, designed by lead architect Mark Trier of the JRA architectural firm, is replacing a church that seats only 360, so it’s construction couldn’t come at a better time.
St. Michael Church, at 3705 Stone Lakes Drive, is one of the fastest-growing parishes in the Archdiocese of Louisville. It currently has registrations of about 1,200 families — and more are joining the church every month.
“Membership seems to be picking up speed,” Father Sullivan said. “Actually rarely is there a day that goes by that we don’t get a call about a baptism.”
In times past, the five Masses held each weekend in the original church — built in 1975 — sometimes resulted in standing-room-only crowds.
“I’ve actually seen times when people would come into the church, see the people standing around the outside walls, and then leave,” Rickert said. “And of course we never want that to happen. So our problems in recent years have been good problems to have; they’ve been problems of growth.”
That growth has resulted in a school with nearly 600 students, including three classes in grades K through four, and two classes each in grades five to eight.
In fact, construction of the new church will allow the current parish “Family Life Center” to become the junior high school wing of the parish school. Parish offices will be located in the new church’s undercroft and the old church building will become home to the parish’s youth ministry.
Building the new church has been, for both Father Sullivan and pastoral associate Rickert, a journey that began years ago.
“We actually started talking about the need for a new church 10 years ago,” Rickert recalled. “Architects and builders back then told us that, given the way the economy works, the longer you wait the more it’s going to cost. It’s been remarkable; I’ve learned so much and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.
“I never thought I’d be a part of something this grand,” she added.
It was two years ago that the parish “bit the financial bullet” and decided to go ahead with construction, Father Sullivan said.
“Construction of the new church began when the first load of dirt arrived here on Nov. 11, 2011,” he said. The dirt was needed because part of the parish’s 25 acres involved what he called “a mini-Grand Canyon.”
“It took 5,000 loads of dirt and rock” to fill in the canyon, though the new church isn’t actually built on top of all the fill material; it’s adjacent to the former canyon.
The parish was launched with the gift of nine acres of ground from the Riggs family, which owned a multi-acred fishing lake on the property.
“It’s one of the reasons we want symbols of water in the church, to tie us to our past,” the pastor explained.
When the church is dedicated in June, parishioners will easily note the huge “St. Michael” window that sits on the back wall, directly across from its main entrance. Students at the school will be able to see the window, too, and the image of St. Michael will be easily visible from either side.
“It’s all so exciting,” said Rickert. “We’re looking forward to having a place where we can all be together again.”