By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
EMINENCE, Ky., — Parishioners of St. John Chrysostom Church say they love their renovated church, a small parish in Henry County, Ky., that has just 15 pews.
“Like any other comfortable interior, it makes you feel good, but this parish truly has the Holy Spirit moving in it,” said Jenny Souers, a long time parishioner and a member of the group that planned the recent renovation.
Joanne Ashby agreed, noting that the parish of about 60 members is like a family.
“Because we have one Mass on Sundays, we all know each other,” said Ashby, who has been a member for 45 years. “We know when someone is missing from Mass, so we know to check to see if that person is sick.”
Ashby, a long-time volunteer, helps clean the church and creates liturgical art. She and Souers were among a group of parishioners and parish leaders who gathered at the church to discuss the renovations recently.
Before the renovations began in the spring of 2013, the sanctuary was very small, said Father Michael Tobin, pastor. There was barely room for him, a deacon and an alter server to move around, he said.
The sacristy, which was located on one side of the altar, also served as the confessional. The church needed more storage space and everyone involved agreed it was time to give the church an update, he said.
“Deacon Butch (Kinsella) and I gave parishioners permission to spend their ‘patrimony’ on the church’s renovation,” Father Tobin said. He explained that the money used for the renovation, about $300,000, came from the church’s long-term savings.
Deacon Brendan “Butch” Kinsella said members of the parish started talking about renovating the church a few years before the work actually began. Each had different ideas about the renovations, but they all wanted to make sure upgrading the church would not take away the feel of a “country church,” he said.
Putting the church into the hands of the architects was an “act of faith,” said Father Tobin. In the end, the renovation met their expectations.
“Mark Trier and his team at JRA Architects did a splendid job in preserving the historic appearance of the sanctuary,” said Father Tobin.
The sanctuary was re-built to maximize the space. The black and white tiles on the floor of the sanctuary were replaced with hardwood, which Father Tobin said has enhanced the church’s acoustics.
The old sacristy was torn down and a wall that enclosed part of the altar was removed. These changes revealed two stained-glass windows that had been hidden — one of the “great pluses” of the renovation, said Father Tobin.
The renovation also included the addition of a confessional. Ashby noted that a couple of pews were removed to make room for it, a compromise parishioners were willing to make.
The renovation also connected the parish hall to the main church. This was achieved by building an addition to the walkway which separated the two structures. The new addition now houses an office, a closet and a new sacristy.
The final touch — a new altar designed by the architects and built by an Amish artisan in Indiana — was consecrated on Aug. 9 by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz.
Ashby said she’s thankful the church didn’t lose any parishioners during construction, noting that Mass was celebrated in the church hall during that period.
If anything, the church may be stronger, said Father Tobin.
“While the renovation was happening, we talked about renewing our commitment to social concerns,” he said, noting that the parish is a supporter of the local non-profit Water with Blessings.
St. John’s music director, Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph Larraine Lauter, and parishioner Arnold LeMay founded Water with Blessings, which provides water filtration systems and training to needy families in developing countries.
Deacon Kinsella noted that St. John parishioners are generous in their assistance to the charity, as well as to other organizations, such as the Henry County Help Center, which assists needy families.
“They are good people,” said Deacon Kinsella of his parishioners. “This is a very active and a very welcoming parish.”