By Michelle Castleman

NEW HAVEN — The parishioners of St. Louis are patiently awaiting their return to a newly renovated church. Since June 9, 2013, the faithful of Besancon have been celebrating Mass in their recreation hall as their hallowed space undergoes a stunning transformation.

On the feast of St. Louis the year prior, a capital campaign kicked off to raise funds for the much-needed project coined “CRP” or Church Restoration Project. In his fundraising pitch, lifetime member of the parish, Darrel Dodane, reminded fellow parishioners of the sacrifice that the early founders made to build the church and how he felt it was the responsibility of current members to preserve St. Louis for future generations.

Father Steve Colchin, who has served as pastor at St. Louis since 1997, was very pleased with the overwhelming response from family and friends of the parish, saying, “Because of the generous support of so many, we were able to meet our goal of $675, 000 quickly.” Soon after, architects and decorators were hired, various subcommittees were formed, months of meetings transpired and the process began. It is estimated that the church was last painted nearly 40 years ago and the stained glass windows were restored two decades ago.

The total restoration of the structure, built in 1871, includes extensive exterior work as well as a major interior makeover. One of the first undertakings was repainting the steeple and re-gilding the gold cross, which reaches high to the eastern Allen County sky. A new “Decra” roof was put on to match the three other major buildings on the parish grounds. The shamrocking on the outside of the church was repaired and repainted and all new storm windows were installed.

The roof of the sacristy was also lowered approximately 20 inches to allow the change to a hip roof on the back. In addition, all new doors were installed. The front steel doors were each made three inches wider as Father Steve Colchin has always quipped, “Two fat men and a casket could not get through.”

Among the many changes inside, a row of pews was removed from the rear to allow for a funeral viewing area. The former cry-room was converted to a fully handicap accessible restroom and a reconciliation room. A new, slightly larger cry-room was placed on the other side. The extremely steep steps to the choir loft were flattened and the south wall was completely reinsulated. All of the pews were removed and refinished in a rich oak stain.

Altars were graciously gifted from Bishop Leonard Blair (former Toledo bishop and now archbishop of Hartford, Conn.) and St. Anthony Parish in Toledo, Ohio. Home to early French settlers, it has been a goal of the committees at St. Louis to incorporate all of the old, along with the new, during the renovation. The former Altar of Repose is now the Altar of Sacrifice and the columns are being used in the ambo.

The old capitols from the top of the holy water font were also modified. Now all the columns will be Corinthian style adding a look of sheer beauty and elegance to the purple eggplant paint scheme paired with three shades of gold. All new lights and fans were also added.


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