by Joe Bollig
SENECA — There was a bit of last-minute bustling around as parishioners prepared for the Mass of dedication for the renovated Sts. Peter and Paul Church here on June 1.
But Father Arul Carasala, pastor for the past two years and standing in the church’s transept, had the look of a man satisfied with a job well done.
“This is a very traditional Catholic community,” he said of his Seneca parishioners, “and the church is very traditional.”
The refurbished white, Gothic altars with gold trim fairly glowed. The brass tabernacle doors and sanctuary lamp gleamed. The late evening light showed every vivid color of the sparkling, stained-glass windows. Orderly ranks of intricate stenciling marched around the walls and architectural details throughout the church.
From medallions painted high on the walls of the nave, saints and apostles looked down with holy gravitas.
Murals on the front transepts showed their colleagues at critical moments: on the left, St. Peter receiving the keys from Christ; on the right, St. Paul picking himself up off the road to Damascus.
As a whole, the effect was stunning, a jewel box of a church. The remodeled 1886 building harmonized perfectly with the modern narthex (gathering space) built onto the front.
It was Father Carasala’s dream, but not his alone, he explained.
“Basically, the building committee designed the church interior,” he said.
When Father Carasala came to the parish in July 2011, he could see that the church was in need of renovation and modernization. He and the parish building committee formed a three-stage plan to build a 2,400-square-foot narthex at the entrance and to renovate the church.
This project was very much a labor of love — and an effort of the Year of Faith, said Father Carasala.
“It is so important to renew our faith from time to time, especially when the archdiocese provided this opportunity during the Year of Faith,” he said. “I asked myself, ‘What can we do to deepen our faith?’ So we had a lot of programs to renew our faith.”
These programs strengthened the parish so that it could proceed with the vital and necessary renovations and addition.
“As we first addressed the issue of strengthening the faith of the community,” he continued, “we then addressed the issue of renovating this whole beautiful church. For the people of Seneca, their whole lives revolve around this church.”
Proof of that was the very generous response of the people of the parish, who provided funds and some labor.
The church renovation included new ceramic floor tile and carpet, new Sheetrock for the sacristy, a new altar and ambo, a lighting and electrical upgrade, new pews, renovation of the choir loft, and new murals, among other things.
Outside, the building and property received new sidewalks, landscaping and lawn irrigation system, exterior lights, a wheelchair ramp, and repair of the foundation and bell tower.
Work remaining to be done includes repair of the stained-glass windows, a new furnace, and exterior repair to the sacristy at the back of the church.
The general contractor was AHRS Construction, Inc., of Bern, and the architect of the narthex was David Emig and Associates of Emporia.
The total cost of the renovation and narthex construction was a little over $2 million.
A picnic-style reception was held outside following the Mass of dedication.
Whenever a church is renovated and replaces its altar, normally a relic must be placed within that altar. The altar itself is then anointed with sacred chrism.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, main celebrant and homilist, also had that honor at the Mass of dedication of the renovated Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Seneca June 1.
In his homily, the archbishop said that the renovation and addition was a wonderful testimony to the excellent leadership of Father Carasala and to the faith of the parish.
“This church has always been such a beautiful place of worship, but I think what you’ve done now is to enhance what has always been here, to make this truly one of the gems of the archdiocese,” he said.
The new narthex is a place where people can enjoy fellowship in “warmth and welcome, where life and love is shared,” he said. It is a place where members of the community can welcome guests, share burdens, and to celebrate each other’s joys and accomplishments.
“We are very grateful for this large and gracious gathering space that is a great enhancement and enrichment to this church,” he said.
It’s important also, because by providing a social space, parishioners reserve the church as a sacred place for prayer, said the archbishop.
“One of the hallmarks of our Catholic churches has been, historically, that they are places of quiet, where before and after Mass we can enter into prayer and commune and converse with the living God,” he said.
Joining the archbishop as concelebrants were Bishop Prasad Gallela, from the Diocese of Cuddapah in India, who sent Father Carasala to Kansas; Father Carasala; Abbot James Albers, OSB, from St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison; retired Abbot Ralph Koehler, OSB, a native of the parish; Father Lazar Carasala, from the Diocese of Cuddapah, now at St. Joseph Parish in Nortonville; Father Mathew Francis, from the Diocese of Cuddapah, now at St. Lawrence in Easton; Father Greg Hammes, a native of the parish, now pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Sabetha; former pastor Father Michael Koller, now pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa; Father John Reynolds, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Onaga; Father Jim Shaughnessy, pastor of St. Gregory Parish in Marysville; Father Quentin Schmitz, associate pastor at St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee; Father Daniel Schmitz, associate pastor at Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe; and Father Pat Sullivan, pastor of Annunciation Parish in Frankfort. Msgr. Gary Applegate was master of ceremonies.