EVELETH — Parishioners of Resurrection Catholic Church in Eveleth are celebrating in the newly renovated sanctuary following summer construction work. Altars were refinished, the floor was reinforced, leveled and new flooring was installed and several new and favorite old statues were repainted. The cantor was relocated to the choir loft and priest’s chair was moved against the wall.
“The purpose of the renovation was to maintain and restore the church to its original luster,” explained Fr. Michael Garry, the church’s current pastor, during a recent tour of the space.
The renovation focused on the front of the church, although the choir loft also experienced a few changes. Original plans included updating the floor and installing refurbished side altars recently received from St. John’s in Virginia. However, plans expanded when it was discovered the extent the floor had sunk under the high altar.
It was found that the floor needed to be reinforced and this greatly added to the project’s final cost of roughly $85,000.
Garry said the reason for the construction was two fold. First, to maintain the church and repair the sinking floor under the weight of the high altar. Second, to restore the “Gem of the Iron Range with its iconic building and steeple.”
The project has been on Garry’s mind for over two years. When he got the call earlier this summer that contractors were ready to start the project, things were quickly put into motion to ensure the project’s completion before a scheduled wedding.
With only finishing touches of baseboards and paint, the church was completed on schedule.
Zooming in on a black and white photo on his smartphone, Garry compared what the church originally looked like before previous renovations.
“At one time this whole area was covered in murals,” he said, pointing around the altar area. Statues of angels kneeling on pedestals stood on either side of the high altar, garding the tabernacle where the body of Christ is housed. A communion rail ran across the space.
Garry flipped to another photo, taken more recently at a funeral but still in black and white. Some of the murals had disappeared but he zoomed in on the side altars.
At some point, perhaps in the 1970s, a lot of these items disappeared. Maybe the idea was to declutter the space but Garry points to how the building was built for the side altars.
Before St. John’s Polish Catholic Church was demolished this spring in Virginia to make way for the Marquette school playground, several items were rescued for Resurrection. Of the items moved to Eveleth, some of the heaviest were the two side altars.
“We wanted to keep these precious heirlooms on the Iron Range,” said Garry. He pointed to the intricate woodwork bordering the altars. “This was all hand carved. Someone put a lot of work into this. It is a symbol of faith and we want to keep that patrimony in the area.”
Under the watchful eye of Ron Cimperman, a Virginia woodworker, the altars were moved, refinished and installed.
“We are very indebted to him and all of the other volunteers that helped with this project,” said Garry.
Although not an exact match from the original side altars, Garry pointed to a set of missing spirals, they perfectly match the existing high altar’s neogothic style, popular in the early 20th century.
Before the church was called Resurrection, it was known as Holy Family, the Slovanian church in town. It was built in 1909. With the closing of St. Patrick’s, the Irish church, and Immaculate Conception, the Italian church, Eveleth’s Catholic community was brought together in this one building.
“Anyone can come in and pray,” said Garry inviting the surrounding community into the space. “With all of this stuff, you can reach out and touch God.” He explained that through the beauty of the church, it is possible to experience transcendence, a higher plane, through all the senses.
“Some people say that the Church and the Vatican should sell everything and give it away. If we did, it would all go to the rich who could purchase the items. It is the Church’s perspective that the poor need and deserve to have beauty and transcendence in their lives, too. The church provides for this need. We are patrons of the arts. This is a place for even the poorest to see something beautiful and touch transcendence.”
Feedback from parishioners of the renovation have been positive.
“I love it! It looks beautiful” said Vickie Flannigan, parishioner and former church Secretary. “It is going back to the way it was when I was young.”
Parishioner and religious education Director, Pam Rapacz agrees. “It neat that some of the items came from St. John’s. It is sad but they will live on here.”
Keeping the focus on God, parishioners will notice the subtle shift of the priest’s seating. Instead of facing the congregation, the priest will now sit flush with a wall as this “gets worship more Christ centered,” Garry explained.
Various statues have been repainted including several from St. John’s.
The parish has a relic from St. Faustina, the Polish saint who popularized the Divine Mercy image, which had been displayed where one of the new side altars stand. “We are still looking for a permanent place,” said Garry while touring the sacristy where he prepares for mass.
New hardwood cabinets fill one wall of the small changing room. A new statue of St. Joseph and the relic are in this special space.
Fr. Joel Hastings is the Director of Liturgy for the Diocese of Duluth and a former pastor at Resurrection. “It is beautiful,” Hastings said of the renovation on the phone this week. “We certainly want to promote, where possible, that churches can be made beautiful to draw people into a deeper encounter with heaven realities. Heaven is perfect beauty. Anything we can facility on Earth to draw us upward, to foretaste what we have waiting for us, we want to promote.”
Hastings explained that there are 74 parishes in the Diocese, the religious district, and few churches are currently able to do this type of grand scale updating.
“I look forward to seeing the finished project,” said Hastings.
The public is welcome to visit the church during office hours, Adoration Wednesdays at 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday mass at 4 p.m. or Sunday mass at 8:30 a.m.