A fireproof faith

The new St. Ann church in Effingham is dedicated


by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

EFFINGHAM — Gene Hegarty nearly shed a tear as the bell was rung for the last time before it was removed the fire- weakened tower of the 111-year-old St. Ann Church here.

The burning down of the venerable structure on April 21, 2008, was a terrible shock.

But there were nothing but smiles on Dec. 5 as that same bell was rung in the tower of the new St. Ann Church at the conclusion of a dedication Mass.

It was a bright but cold day when parishioners and other members of the community gathered in the church hall and then processed to the new church’s front door, led by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, pastor Father Benjamin Tremmel, OSB, and the other concelebrants.

Building committee co-chairman Duane Coder presented the key to Archbishop Naumann, who then handed it to Father Benjamin, who promptly opened the doors to the congregation.

The parishioners responded to the loss of their church in 2008 with commitment, faith, and dedication. It gave the parish new strength, said Hegarty, president of the parish finance committee.

“[Building the new church] united us,” said Hegarty. “It appears to me that now we have more vitality in the parish. I’m totally impressed with the younger people, how they grabbed ahold of this project. I’ve been here 77 years, and I feel good about our parish. I’m impressed with where we’re going.”

Archbishop Naumann was the main celebrant and homilist of the dedication Mass. Concelebrants included Benedictines Father Benjamin, Abbot Barnabas Senecal, Abbot Ralph Koehler, Abbot Owen Purcell, Father Denis Meade, and Father Jeremy Heppler. Msgr. Gary Applegate was master of ceremonies.

In his homily, Archbishop Naumann praised parishioners for their determination to rebuild their church, congratulated them for doing so in a relatively short period of time, and expressed his gratitude for the outpouring of support that came from the entire community of Effingham — Catholic and non-Catholic alike.

“Today, we celebrate the completion of the building of this beautiful church, and we dedicate it to the glory of God,” he said. “With all the challenges of finance and construction behind you — or at least most of them — we give thanks today for this building, which stands truly as a striking symbol of the priority this parish, St. Ann’s, gives to God.”

The archbishop also thanked Father Benjamin for his outstanding leadership throughout the process. He said that Catholics build their churches and make them places of great beauty, not to glorify themselves, but to be imperfect expressions of their love for God.

“We believe our churches are made very special by the One who makes himself present here in the Eucharist,” said the archbishop, “the same one John [the Baptist] prophesied about, who we are unworthy to hold his sandals and be in his presence.

“But he makes himself present here uniquely in the Eucharist to us, as well as in the proclamation of the word of God.”

After the homily, the archbishop offered the prayers of dedication, incensed the altar and then anointed it with sacred chrism. The walls were also anointed. Afterward, the church lights were turned on and the altar was dressed.

Archbishop Naumann greeted parishioners at the end of Mass, which was followed by a catered pulled pork dinner in the parish hall.

The new church was built on the site of the old church. And although it isn’t a copy, it has an updated but traditional design that echoes the older structure.

The rectangular structure has a footprint of about 60 by 110 feet. It has a 75-foot bell tower, slightly shorter than the 1897 church. The bell is the only object that survived the 2008 fire intact. The exterior is red brick with beige cast-stone highlights. The design has a mixture of Gothic and Romanesque elements. The roof is dark gray asphalt composite.

The 8,700-square-foot interior has a spacious narthex (gathering space) that features an off-white ceramic tile floor with an inlaid dark brown/red, polished cross.

The 240-seat sanctuary has a blue carpet and white walls. The pews are dark brown oak. There is a choir loft, with rounded windows overlooking the narthex. The cathedral roof features exposed wooden box-beams with arches, to echo the windows and other design elements.

The altar area has blue walls and a maroon reredos, upon which a large beige wooden crucifix is mounted. The altar is handicapped accessible via a ramp behind the reredos. The altar features statues of St. Joseph and St. Mary. A statue of St. Ann and the Virgin Mary as a child backs a bank of vigil candles.

The liturgical furniture is dark oak, with white marble topping the altar, ambo, tabernacle and baptismal fount. The floor is off-white ceramic tile with insets of four-by-four-inch squares of brown/red, highly polished granite.

The windows are Romanesque, with arched tops. There is one large rose window behind the altar and 12 in facing rows of six on the walls. At the time of the dedication, only the Sacred Heart rose window and four other windows were installed. The remainder will be made and installed soon by Tobiason Studios of St. Joseph, Mo.

The rooms of the interior include a small half-basement storage area, vesting room, reconciliation room, and a multipurpose area that will serve as a cry room, bride’s room, and for eucharistic adoration.

An enclosed breezeway connects the church with the parish hall, for access during all kinds of weather.

The general contractor was Free Country Design of Atchison; the architect was HTK Architects, PA of Overland Park.

The total cost of construction and furnishings was approximately $2 million. The parish incurred no debt thanks to insurance on the old church, a successful fundraising campaign, and contributions from people from all faiths in the community, as well as the archdiocese. The parish has 106 families.

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