By Amy Taylor, Special to The Record
SAMUELS, Ky. — St. Gregory Church, which has about 1,900 parishioners, celebrated a major parish renovation Sept. 6 with their pastor, Father Paul Eve, and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz.
“If I began to thank every one of you, it would be like the Academy Awards,” the archbishop joked with the congregation. “They would play music to get me off the stage! I congratulate you!”
The archbishop, who presided at the Mass, commended parishioners for helping make the vision of the renovated church a reality. And he thanked Father Eve.
“I know how his heart and soul were poured into this wonderful project,” the archbishop said.
The renovation of the church, which was built in 1960, added more than 2,000 square feet, which increased the area of the church to more than 6,000 square feet. Planning for the renovation began in 2012, after the “Building a Future of Hope” fundraiser concluded.
While the present church is only 55 years old, St. Gregory has a long history in the Archdiocese of Louisville. As early as 1827, Catholic settlers gathered for Mass at a farmhouse about eight miles from Bardstown, near the current site of St. Gregory. The original church was built in 1851. In 1922 a new church was built where the parish office now stands.
The most recent building project added a large gathering space, where parishioners can meet with each other before and after Masses; a private reconciliation room; a large baptismal font; a bridal changing room; and a family-friendly “cry room” with glass partitions.
There is also new flooring in the sanctuary, new stained glass windows, new padded pews and public bathrooms.
The old, deteriorating stations of the cross have been replaced by wooden sculptures, hand-carved by an artist from Canada, the pastor said.
“The whole worship space has taken on a beautiful, new, clean appearance,” he said. “It looks like a new church — not just an addition.”
Father Eve credited his parishioners with the success of the renovation, noting that they made it possible.
“What has really impressed me is all the donations that have come forth from the parish,” he said. “I am humbled by the generosity I have witnessed in the people. I couldn’t be more pleased.”
For more than a year, parishioners worshipped in the parish community center, which is also the school gym, while construction took place. A few weddings and funerals were also held in the gym. For parishioner Renelle Stallings, waiting for the sanctuary to be finished “was like waiting for the birth of a child.”
It was well worth the wait, she said.
The renovation “brings new life and vitality to our community,” Stallings said. “Father Paul has paid attention to every last detail. You can see how hard he’s worked on this. It’s not every person who has pastoral, administrative and financial talents all rolled into one. We’re so blessed to have him.”
One of St. Gregory’s oldest parishioners, 90-year-old Imelda Greenwell, has been a part of the church for 59 years. All of her children attended St. Gregory School, she said. And a number of them are church members to this day.
During construction, Greenwell said, attending Mass in the gym and sitting on folding chairs without a way to kneel was not ideal. But “I love my faith,” she said. “We made do. That was OK.”
Clara Fulkerson, who will be 58 this year, has been a member of the church for 56 years. Her father and mother are parishioners, as is her sister. The retired teacher is now St. Gregory’s coordinator of children’s faith formation.
“I’m thrilled about the renovation,” Fulkerson said. “When I walked into the sanctuary, I still felt at home, and I still felt the heart of St. Gregory.
From the time we moved from our sanctuary into the community center last fall — through that process — I’ve seen more and more people physically, emotionally and spiritually involved. I’ve seen generations of families working together. It’s been incredibly rewarding to watch it all happen.”