St. Joseph to undergo major restoration, renovations

Kylie Schepers/The Herald
St. Joseph Catholic Church officials announced on Thursday phases 2 and 3 of renovation and restoration plans at the Jasper church.


JASPER — St. Joseph Catholic Church is undergoing $9.9 million in repairs, restorations and renovations.

As a part of that, the church building will close for a year starting in September.

“We celebrate all the work that our descendants have done to make this parish, this church what it is today,” Fr. Eugene Schmitt, church pastor said Thursday morning. “It’s our time to do our part to renovate, restore and repair this beautiful facility.”

“Our Time” is the name of the capital campaign to complete the restorations and renovations.

Church officials announced on Thursday phases 2 and 3 of renovation and restoration plans at the church. Phase 2 includes exterior work, which officials hope to start in May. Phase 3 is interior work. Officials hope to start that in September, which is why masses will be moved to the church’s parish center. If all goes according to plan, Phase 2 will be done by the end of November and Phase 3 by September 2022.

Phase 1 was the cleaning and restoration of the church’s stained glass windows, which were completed in 2018 and 2019.

To see the floor plans for the renovation, click here.

St. Joseph Parish was founded by Fr. Joseph Kundek in 1837. Construction of the current church started in 1867 and was completed in 1880. Renovations have been done over the years, but Allan Hoffman, chairperson of the renovation committee, said this is the biggest renovation project that has been done in the church’s history.

St. Joseph has been working since 2014 to address a number of problems that come with an aging building, which included the windows. Architectural and engineering consultants were hired to do a facility assessment.

“That facility assessment identified 15 immediate and short-term maintenance issues,” Hoffman said. The information was compiled into the current improvements plan and broken into the three phases.

Phase 2 includes tuck pointing, stonework, work on the bell tower, steeple and roof truss, repairs to the north elevation entrance, drainage improvements, security enhancements, adding exterior lighting, repaving the parking lot and expanding drop-off and pick-up areas to improve accessibility and traffic flow.

The Diocese of Evansville approved Phase 2’s construction documents Wednesday, Hoffman said.

Phase 3 is extensive work on the church’s interior. A new wall made mostly of glass will be added to the interior just behind where the back pews end. The stained glass window of the nativity that is on the back wall will be placed into this new wall.

“What’s really happening in the world now is the separation of the sacred space from the welcoming space,”Hoffman said.

“When people come in church here, and they pray back here, now they’re hearing the chatter. That separation of the sacred space from the public area is so critical.”

The spiral stairwells that lead to the choir area and overflow seating will be replaced with straight stairs.

“It can be a challenge to go up those [spiral] stairs now,” Hoffman said. Space in the choir area will also be extended some to have more room for musicians.

The church pews will be renovated to make them more sturdy and the seats wider. The wood end panel on each side of the pews will be kept, but the actual seat, back and kneeler will be replaced. About two pews will be removed from each row so that the others can be spaced out more, Hoffman explained.

“They’re weak,” he said, “and some of the backs are split [from the seat].”

Hoffman understands this problem firsthand.

“I had a leather coat years ago, I was here one Sunday for Mass, and I sat down,” he said. “When I got up, I heard my leather jacket rip, because these are separate.”

The interior will also receive updated restrooms, new HVAC, new lighting and work to the acoustics, sound, plumbing, sprinklers and electrical systems. Work will also be done on the decorative painting on the ceiling, interior stone, decorative wall mosaics and liturgical items.

The parish is in the process of finalizing construction documents for the interior phase. Those must also be approved by the diocese before work on that phase can start.

About 100 volunteers have been talking to fellow parishioners about the plans and the need to raise money to cover the almost $10 million cost, said Dan Fritch, chairman of the capital campaign.

“Our parishioners already, in the short time we’ve opened our campaign up, just this past week, are showing tremendous support on our efforts,” he said. “We’re very confident that we’ll be able to raise the $10 million. We’ve got a great start — not quite ready to let that number out of the bag yet, but we’ll be sharing that with our parishioners here in the next week or so.”

The church will also reach out to those who are friends and have fond memories of the church, as well as to businesses and foundations, Fritch said.

When the church is closed for the year, church activities, including Mass, will be held in Kundek Hall in the parish center. Fr. Eugene does not know yet if the Mass schedule will be changed. That will depend on what COVID-19 safety guidelines are in place at that time.

“It’s going to depend on the CDC and if we have to social distance,” he said. “If we can go back to the way it was, then we can probably get everybody in Kundek Hall because there’s a bottom floor and there’s seating up above.

“If we can’t, then we might have to use the gym, which is bigger but the acoustics are not that great.

“If we can be close together, then we probably won’t change our Mass times and how many,” Fr. Eugene said. “If we can’t, we’ll have to look at that. I’m not saying we’re going to, but we’ll have to look at that possibility.”

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