by Steve Buckner
Special to The Leaven
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — “It was hard finding someone who dealt with stone.”
And with that understatement, rector of the Cathedral of St. Peter in Kansas City, Kansas, Father Harry Schneider, described the yearlong odyssey that he and his parish undertook to find, order, receive and install a new marble altar and ambo for the soon-to-be 90-year-old French Gothic church.
Actually, as most stories go, the beginning dates back several years. That’s when Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann first asked Father Schneider about replacing the cathedral’s existing altar, which featured a four-piece marble top supported by a wooden frame. Father Schneider pursued the request to a series of dead-ends.
“We had some people come and take a look at it, but the project didn’t go anywhere,” said Father Schneider.
But when the archbishop asked about the altar again last year, Father Schneider knew he had to take action. After a handful of phone calls, Father Schneider found himself talking to a church contractor in Minnesota who mentioned the name of Brendan Hemptil of nearby Stilwell, a man who works with altars and stone.
Father Schneider, along with parish acolyte Michael Rebout, invited Hemptil to the cathedral.
“We explained what we wanted, and we started the process,” said Father Schneider.
The “process” took on an extra dimension when the St. Peter’s community decided that the church should have a new ambo to match the altar.
“We took the designs from the current high altar, baptismal font and everything in the church,” Father Schneider said.
Father Schneider and Rebout took the design to Archbishop Naumann, who liked what he saw and approved it.
In early August 2016, Hemptil worked with J.C. Stone Experts from Houston to order the white, Carrara-like marble from an overseas mine. In January, the church received the pictures of the carved marble and gave permission to polish it, a process that takes about as long as its cutting.
On Wednesday of Holy Week, Father Schneider received word that the four tons of marble had arrived in the United States. The 50-piece set then arrived, courtesy of J.C. Stone, at the cathedral late on May 7.
St. Peter parishioners then dismantled the old altar. The marble from it was preserved and will be re-used as part of a new cantor stand that parishioner Andy Kelly is building.
The J.C. Stone crew then assembled and installed the altar and ambo on May 8 and 9. Diane Hentges of the parish’s Altar Society fed the workers, who barely had time to look up and eat.
“We did a week’s worth of work in two days,” said Kenny Plouff of J.C. Stone.
As the altar was being assembled on Monday night, Archbishop Naumann arrived to check on its progress. He also brought relics of St. Maria Goretti and Pope St. John XXIII, which were placed in the altar when he consecrated it on May 13.
As custom dictates, the archbishop — along with Father Schneider and the workers — signed the inside of a front piece of the altar. Once completed, the altar weighed in at three tons and the ambo at one ton. A structural engineer had been called in earlier to make sure the sanctuary could bear the weight, which it could.
Funding for the altar and ambo has come from parishioners, “who have been very generous,” said Father Schneider. Also, the cathedral’s sister parish, Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Seneca, donated $5,000 to the project.
“I think the parishioners are fairly excited,” Father Schneider said. “There’s been a lot of interest expressed.”
One such parishioner is Mike Hinkle, the cathedral’s do-everything maintenance/ facilities coordinator. Hinkle, whose wife Diane made the covering for the altar, said the new altar and ambo were “wonderful.”
“It’s a beautiful thing to have,” said Hinkle. “It goes with the rest of the church, and it ties the church together.”
Rebout, who has been involved with the project since its early stages, agreed with both Father Schneider and Hinkle.
“It enhances the beauty of the cathedral that we have going for us — with the windows and the other altars. It’s just like a completion,” Rebout said.
The new altar’s design features — what else? — the keys of St. Peter.
“We did all marble because of the high altar of the church. It’s all marble,” Father Schneider said. “All the designs and motifs are the same.
“It just enhances — to a whole new level — the incredible beauty of the cathedral.”