Historic Beloit church is renovated Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Pat Casucci, Catholic Herald Correspondent   
Thursday, May. 24, 2018 -- 12:00 AM
st thomas beloit
St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Beloit recently completed a renovation of its historic church, which was dedicated in 1886. The renovation included cleaning and painting of all church walls and repainting of statues and the corpus on the crucifix (above). A stylized tree of life design was created as a background for the crucifix. The tabernacle, formerly on a side altar, was moved to the center of the altar area and placed on a custom-made table. (Catholic Herald photo/Pat Casucci)

BELOIT -- The rejoicing, joy, and peace of Easter Sunday was enhanced for St. Thomas the Apostle parishioners.

After a major $335,000 renovation of the church interior, it was the first time in almost three months that a Mass was celebrated by Pastor Fr. John Hedrick in the historic church built in 1885.

The church had been closed since January 8, 2018.

The regularly scheduled weekend Masses for St. Thomas were held at St. Jude Church. Father Hedrick is pastor of both parishes.

In a recent interview, Father Hedrick said, “We have had lots of positive comments about the renovation. On Easter Sunday, there was a sense of awe as parishioners looked around the church, seeing how beautiful it is.”

Necessary renovation

Father Hedrick said the renovation was necessary after significant plaster repair was needed on a church wall and part of the ceiling. “The church walls also looked in need of cleaning, and it was decided to not just paint them,” he said.

“After a couple pieces of plaster fell, we knew we had to take care of this 133-year-old building, not let it deteriorate,” he explained. The last time the walls were painted was in 1975.

Extensive planning for the project included a fund drive with parishioners contributing about $175,000. In addition, Father Hedrick said two memorial bequests and parish funds made the extensive renovation possible.


Parishioners supported the renovation plans. “We held an open meeting where parishioners asked questions and shared opinions,” said the pastor.

A 10-member committee of parishioners worked with Father Hedrick on all details. Committee members are: Dennis Conerton, John Winkelman, John Fitzsimmons, Jackie Roehl, Sheri Kulaurinski, Michael Bared, Michael Keenan, Tom Lang, Ruth Kolpack, and Dick Ashton.

Affiliated Artists of Milwaukee was contracted for the project. The company enlisted artistic support from Roehle Brothers, an Iowa company.

Worked for three months

According to Father Hedrick, five men from the two companies worked at the church for almost three months. By closing the church, scaffolding and equipment could be left in place, facilitating the significant project.

The workers actually lived on the church grounds -- in a nearby apartment and in an RV. They often worked 12-hour days, noted Father Hedrick

“The artists were a nice crew to work with. They had very good ideas. It was really easy as they checked with us along the way. They are superbly talented,” said Father Hedrick. “They told us they enjoyed the work,” he added.

Father Hedrick said he monitored the project almost every day, noting “it was really interesting to follow the progress.”

Researched church decor

Research was done to determine the church decor from past years. Parishioners shared old pictures, and files from the Beloit Historical Society and other sources were reviewed. The artists shared their knowledge about such projects.

When the artists stripped layers of paint from part of a church wall, they found an old design featuring a red medallion with a cross that was incorporated into the new designs. Scroll designs were also revealed.

Father Hedrick said all the church walls were washed and painted. An example of the exacting technical work done was the placement of fiber glass mesh over the interior walls in order to strengthen the plaster and the repairs needed. “It made a new surface to paint over,” he said.

He stressed all the work was hand painted. The basic wall color is “a very soft gold,” he added.

The arch over each church window was painted a brown color to match wood on the ceiling. Statues and the Corpus in the church were repainted.

The Stations of the Cross, which are more than 100 years old, were cleaned as were other large pictures. “This cleaning brought out more color,” noted Father Hedrick.

Enhanced Stations of Cross

A frame was painted above each Station of the Cross and a decorative panel painted below each one. “We discovered in the old pictures that this had been done years ago,” he noted.

A new addition enhances each Station. The caption for each Station is printed in English, and below that line is the caption printed in the Spanish language.

“This is important to our many Hispanic parish members,” said Father Hedrick.

Another old photograph revealed verses written above the stained glass window behind the altar. Father Hedrick chose a verse from John’s Gospel. It is written in English and in Spanish. The background for the crucifix located behind the altar is now a stylized tree of life design.

The intricate design of the panels painted on the wall around the altar are also copied from old photographs. Planning committee member Jackie Roehl said that panel design is similar to the panels in photographs of her wedding ceremony in 1972. “I feel this project brought back the former elegant church decor in a tasteful manner,” she said.

The tabernacle, formerly on a side altar, was moved to the center of the altar area and placed on a custom made table.

An image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was placed on the side altar where the tabernacle had been. A kneeler was placed in front for parishioners who often pray to the patron of Mexico.

Positive response

With a grateful smile, Father Hedrick said he’s encouraged by the response from parishioners. “I think a lot of people feel ownership in this project,” he said.

He appreciates that the company completed the renovation two weeks earlier than planned.

Committee member Ruth Kolpack expressed her appreciation for the artists who worked on the renovation. “I’m amazed at how much handwork that was done by the artists. They have wonderful talent. Their incredible patience while painting the intricate designs was almost like a meditation,” she said.

Along with the renovation, committee member and also a finance committee member, Dennis Conerton, said the church sound system was improved and steps moved to increase space for the choir. An electronic number board to show the songs for each Mass was installed.

Ever enthusiastic about St. Thomas Parish, Jackie Roehl expressed her feelings by stating, “It’s gorgeous. I think we all appreciated how the project turned out.”

Beloit’s first parish

St. Thomas the Apostle is Beloit’s first and oldest parish. According to histories, Catholic pioneers had come to the area in the early 1800s. The first Mass was said for five Irish Catholic families in 1842 in a home.

A stone church, built in 1851, burned in 1884. It was replaced by the present edifice. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

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