Renovation reveals church treasures

Parishioners returned to St. John the Baptist Church in Glandorf on Easter Sunday after a three-month, $1.2 million improvement project. The work reversed many changes to the 1875 church during Vatican II, which brought the covering up of murals, mosaics and stained glass windows during the 1960s. (Randy Roberts photo)

By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
STAFF WRITER

GLANDORF — Easter was a special time for the faith family of St. John the Baptist Church in Glandorf.

Parishioners got their first chance to see the interior of the historic church after several months of renovations, including the revelation of a large, long-covered up stained glass window.

“To me now, I really feel like it does inspire you when you come in here,” said Eric Kaufman, a church member and past parish council president. “You realize you’re somewhere special. You realize Jesus is here.”

The neo-gothic-style brick church is located at Ohio 694 and Main Street in Glandorf. Built in 1875, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

“The Easter vigil was our first Mass, so that was really nice to be in here by then,” said Kaufman. “It turned out wonderful.”

Church historian Michael Leach agreed: “People kept saying, ‘We feel like we’re home again.'”

St. Joseph’s altar is common to all Catholic churches built at the time. (Randy Roberts photo)

Bringing the church back

The $1.2 million improvement project included adding fiberglass and a fresh coat of paint to the church’s interior walls, installing energy-efficient lighting and uncovering the center vestibule stained glass window that had been hidden since the 1960s.

Many changes were made to the church after Vatican II, Leach explained. Local officials removed statues and painted over much of the 19th-century art, including images of the 12 apostles on the church vault.

“During Vatican II, simplicity was what was important,” said church pastor, the Rev. Tony Fortman. “They felt it was too busy in here. People can’t keep that much attention. So it was ‘cover up murals. Cover up mosaics and stained glass windows’. That happened a lot in the church in the 1960s.”

Ironically, it was a devastating fire in 1992 that began to bring the church back after the days of Vatican II. The sacristy was completely destroyed in the fire, along with some valued vestments that had been stored there. Also lost was a turn-of-the-century Baroque-style gold monstrance, a large vessel used to hold the communion host, which melted in the heat.

Smoke damage was spread throughout.

But the parish came together and began the work of restoring their church. In the following years, images of the 12 apostles, first painted in oils in 1878, reappeared with funds provided by a friend of the church. The parish also paid for new pews to match the original seats. And wooden statues of Jesus and Mary that had been given away in the 1960s were returned.

The most recent work has included preventive measures like replacing storm windows and fiberglassing the interior walls.

“The whole church now is probably 85 percent fiberglassed, which basically keeps the old paint layers from coming through,” said Kaufman. “We’ve done our outside walls previously and that’s helped. We’ve seen the proof in it.”

As long as there’s no moisture damage, there’s no reason the church should have to do anything for another 35-40 years, according to Kaufman.

Leach said the storm windows help protect the stained glass windows which date back to the beginning of the church in 1878.

“In between they’ve been releaded, cleaned and all of that stuff, but we had to do something more,” he said. “We had some storm windows on there, but they were not of the quality that we have today.”

The fiberglassing, painting, gilding, cleaning and patching was done by the Conrad Schmitt Studios from New Berlin, Wisconsin, which has done previous work at the church.

Church historian Michael Leach stands by one of two alcoves uncovered in the church entryway. Statues of Joseph and the baby Jesus and Mary were purchased for the alcoves from the Franciscan Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania (Randy Roberts photo)

‘Somewhere special’

The church was closed for more than three months while restoration work was underway.

During that time, Masses were held at the nearby St. John’s parish center.

“That first Mass, it just felt so nice to be back in,” said Kaufman. “It felt like you were home, and it felt like you were somewhere special. You were closer to where you needed to be.”

Cosmetic work included a fresh paint job. Red paint accents and gold leaf were added.

“The color is red because we are ministered by the Missionaries of the Precious Blood,” said Leach.

Red is also in the flag of St. John the Baptist, the church’s patron saint based on the mother community in Glandorf, Germany, he said.

“All the gold was brand new gold leaf because everything we had was copper-based and was tarnishing, so it was a lot of bluish, green gold color,” Kaufman said. “It’s vibrant now and it shines in the lights.”

The scripture verse, “He Dwelled Among Us and Redeemed Us,” was added in red letters in the sanctuary. Fortman called the words “a focus on Jesus Christ and his glory.”

“We do this to glorify God, the church, and I think that’s what we always want to do when people come in here,” he said.

A lowered ceiling in the vestibule was also removed to reveal a long, covered stained glass window. Two hidden niches were also found when walls in the vestibule were removed.

“We had an idea (of what it looked like) from an old picture. But until we cut the hole in the ceiling, we didn’t know for sure,” said Kaufman. “It was a find.”

Statues of Joseph and the baby Jesus and Mary were purchased from the Franciscan Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania for the alcoves. A large statue of the Holy Family, given to the church around 1910 and then taken away in the 1960s, was purchased from St. Hedwig Catholic Church, Toledo.

“It’s not the original, but it’s similar to what was here,” said Leach.

Kaufman said the artwork now back in the church helps keep him focused.

“Yeah, there might be a lot to see and a lot to look at, but it all pulls you back here to one reason: It’s pulling you back to Jesus,” he said. “All the stories of the saints, these statues, these paintings, it’s all drawing you back to Jesus. And I feel like that’s needed. You need that sacred artwork. You need that sacred music that the choir and organ provides, just to keep you focused.”

Fortman said the restoration project has been a labor of love for the parishioners and church members, many of whom provided volunteer work as plumbers, woodworkers and electricians.

“They were willing to go the extra mile to make this happen. And to me, I’m very humbled that I can serve amongst people that are such hard workers and so talented, and they remain humble in all that,” he said.

As the church historian and as a restorationist, seeing the project completed is “an absolute dream come true” for Leach.

“We took a terrible wound in the 1960s, and it’s taken all these years to recover from that,” he said. “And to think that now we get to see it all in its glory again. This is a real gift from God.”

The church’s rededication will be held Sept. 9. The Most Reverend Daniel E. Thomas, apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Cleveland and bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Toledo, is expected to attend.

Wolf: 419-427-8419
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