by Joe Bollig
ST. MARYS — If Dostoevsky was right and “Beauty will save the world,” then one shop student here has already played his part.
Luke Trausch, a 16-year-old sophomore at St. Marys Junior-Senior High, built a wood altar as a school shop project for the new eucharistic adoration chapel at Immaculate Conception Parish.
But this was no ordinary shop project.
Trausch wanted to make something challenging, something unique.
“It’s a little bit more special than building a chest of drawers,” said Trausch. “It’s a bigger accomplishment building this [rather] than a coat rack or something way smaller.”
His shop instructor agreed.
If it’s not the most ambitious wood project he’s ever seen done at the school, it ranks among them, said Keith Aubert, woods technology teacher at the high school and member of Immaculate Conception Parish.
“It’s right up there,” he said. “It’s pretty advanced.”
The altar, which has a “traditional” design echoing a style once common in many Catholic churches, is made of red oak. It’s seven feet high (84 inches), a bit over 5 feet wide (68 inches) and a little more than two feet deep (32 inches). It has a cinnamon stain to match the chapel.
A monstrance will occupy the central niche at the top. Below the niche is a rectangular space with the words “Ecce Agnus Dei” (Latin for “Behold the Lamb of God”). On the face of the altar, below, are the letters “IHS,” the Greek monogram for the name “Jesus.”
When Father Justin Hamilton arrived at Trausch’s church, Immaculate Conception, in July 2020, there had been a lot of preparation for the construction of a new parish hall, new grotto and new eucharistic adoration chapel.
“The building committee brought me up to speed,” said Father Hamilton. “I discovered that there hadn’t been a whole lot of thought about what the interior of the chapel would look like. Things were up in the air about the furnishings, altar, lighting, pews and painting.”
This, decided Father Hamilton, was a great teachable moment. He talked to parishioners about how Pope John Paul II had applied Dostoevsky’s famous words to the beauty of Christian art. He explained how that beauty can draw people to God and how through incarnational theology, a structure and setting can help humans encounter God.
Father Hamilton then consulted Denis R. McNamara, associate professor and executive director of the Center for Beauty and Culture at Benedictine College in Atchison, who offered ideas and made some recommendations.
“[I told him] we want this to be a beautiful chapel that draws the hearts and minds of people to God and is rooted in the church’s history of sacred architecture,” said Father Hamilton.
“We don’t want it to be a utilitarian structure, which is what so often chapels become, unfortunately, and churches, too. People are well-intentioned when they want to make it practical, but it ends up looking like a warehouse, and [then] where’s the beauty that draws you to Christ?”
The pastor then contacted Michael Raia, president and founder of Studio io Liturgical Design & Consulting in Austin, Texas. Raia provided the design of the altar and made several recommendations.
Aubert, who assisted the parish building committee, suggested that one of his students might take the altar build as a class project.
“I talked to the class,” he said, “and Luke was jumping up in the back with his hand waving, ‘Pick me, pick me, I’ll do it.’”
That was in September 2021. Trausch worked on it all year, finishing it just as summer began. Aubert helped and Custom Wood Products donated the wood and stain.
“We haven’t calculated the cost [to build],” said Aubert. “If the altar were made by someone else, it would cost thousands of dollars.”
McNamara saw a photo of the nearly completed altar and was equally impressed.
“It is a great testament to [Trausch’s] faith and motivation,” McNamara said.
“No doubt it will teach others that the Holy Spirit is still at work in young people today, inspiring them to share in God’s creative power by bringing something beautiful and worthy into the world,” he said. “And all for the glorification of God and the sanctification of the world.”
The altar will be installed in the eucharistic adoration chapel sometime at the end of June or beginning of July. A joint dedication and blessing of the parish hall, grotto and eucharistic adoration chapel by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann will take place in September or October.
“I love it, it’s a great project,” said Aubert. “This is something Luke’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren will see when they walk into this church in a hundred years from now. . . . It’s a great legacy to the parish.
“Hopefully, it will be here forever, and people will always cherish it.”