A near-century-old building might lack certain modern amenities: windows that open, air-conditioning, modern communications technology and bones that will hold up for the next 100 years, to name a few.

But now renovations are coming to Sacred Heart Church.

Sacred Heart, designed by famed architect Thomas MacLaren, has served Old Colorado City since 1922. The buff-colored Spanish mission-style building at 21st Street and Colorado Avenue was emptied of its furnishings June 26, and Mass has been celebrated in the Parish Center gym since.

The Roman Catholic congregation celebrated the 95th anniversary of the church building dedication July 16.

"We are looking forward to our 100th anniversary five years from now. This is not a remodeling as much as a restoration," said the Rev. Ronald P. Raab, the four-year pastor.

The ceilings, confessionals, stations of the cross and choir loft will be restored, while the floors are refinished, new pews and air-conditioning installed and the altar renewed to better fit the Spanish mission-style. Also on the list: Replace the altar furniture, add lighting and install a new sound system.

The adjacent rectory will be gutted and turned into meeting space "for adult education, a connection of prayers and service," Raab said.

"So much of it is just cleaning and restoring. I'm just so eager to make the church last into the future."

Community effort

"One of the great gifts of this is the talent pool," Raab said. "Everyone has come from this community to put their talents in. It's been such a profound gift - not only to look at the building, but to look at us as a people and to take ownership of our future."

Ray Walkowski, a three-year church member who serves on the Colorado Springs Planning Commission, is chairman of the church building committee. Another parishioner, Geoffrey Keating, owns a woodworking business and is making pews to replace the old ones. They are only two of the many parishoners and volunteers contributing to the renovations.

"A lot of the elements of the project came from within the parish," Keating said.

Walkowski said the committee weighed the challenges of renovating versus rebuilding and encountered some surprises with renovation, such as having to do more asbestos abatement than anticipated.

"Also, how do we integrate a renovation with new mechanical systems like air conditioning and preserve the sacredness of the space? And put in new audio-visual equipment? We spent a lot of time on the aesthetics of integrating current technology while keeping the sacred look that's been there for 95 years," Walkowski said.

"The building was completed in 1922, and things were very tight as far as property lines and easements. We had to take the whole process through the city," he said. "Some of the lots were zoned commercial; the school was zoned residential; some plats were unidentified as to ownership."

City planners helped the church work through replatting, rezoning and even rebuilding the front steps because of "a lot of tight property lines," Walkowski said.

"The church will be renovated and restored to the mission-style. It's not going to really change the space, the decades of worship and prayer that have gone on in there. It creates a more inviting space. We're really excited about helping to restore a historic space to Old Colorado City."

Nunn Construction started environmental abatement July 24 and expects to continue through January.

"You know the traffic-calming measures in Old Colorado City? Part of what we're doing with Sacred Heart is creating a soul-calming place," Walkowski said. "I think people do not want to lose the presence of the church now. There was just this feeling in Sacred Heart when you walk in. We want it to last for the next 100 years. It won't be, 'Wow, this is totally different.' But the renovations will allow it to stay functional for a long time."

Holy Cross congregation

Sacred Heart is part of the Tri-Community Parish, which also covers Holy Rosary Chapel of Cascade and Our Lady of Perpetual Help of Manitou Springs. The three churches serve about 1,200 families. About 1,000 people attend Sacred Heart. In Cascade there is also a novitiate where priests are trained.

"The church is known for its compassion for people - most who are the physical poor and not just the spiritual poor," Raab said.

The churches have been Holy Cross congregations since 1984, meaning they are part of an education- and service-focused community of priests founded by French priest Basil Moreau in 1799. In French, Holy Cross translates to "Sainte Croix," the small French town where Moreau founded his community.

"We are looking at the heart of Jesus and who that is, from Our Lady of Sorrows to Basil Moreau, and helping people also connect with our mission," Raab said. "In this diocese, we are just another religious community that has another particular vision."

"Holy Cross priests and brothers are called upon to be educators in the faith, who with a preferential option for the poor, educate both the mind and heart principally in the fields of education, parish and mission," says the website of Congregation of Holy Cross, www.holycrossusa.org.

"I'm looking worldwide at helping people in poverty and illness," Raab said. "We do serve people of poverty in the neighborhood. We hold a Lord's Dinner every Sunday for 100 to 150 people. Our food pantry last year served 6,000 people as part of our mission with Westside Cares, and just the way we try to welcome people in the neighborhood. It comes from the real presence of Jesus in our world."

So the renovation is less about the building than about "a mission and about praying for a culmination of things," he said.

New pews

The hefty, original pews are in bad shape, Raab said, and 22 are being donated to St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in the St. Luis Valley. The wood from others will be used for new confessionals and other projects.

Keating, who owns Keating Woodworks, has been hired to make 38 pews as well as front and side doors. Every piece of the pews is hand-sanded - a detail Keating said he hopes makes church-goers feel connected.

"Father Ron came to me in the early stages asking if I would help, and I said yes," Keating said. "It was just kind of a natural connection.

"I get to take part in this cool project, and it's fun for me, and the church gets something that might not have been in the budget, otherwise. Just to be able to give something back to my own community is very meaningful. It's nice to have a community and church that's committed to creating a beautiful space."

Keating researched mission-style churches, including a sister church in Pueblo.

"I wanted to take that and adapt to particular lines and do something that fits the original vision," he said.

The pews are being made of North Carolina oak, certified as sustainably harvested by the Forest Stewardship Council. The raw wood is variations of very light beige, but will be stained a rich dark brown to match the church crossbeams.

Blacksmith Charles Walters is making copper bolts with iron tops to give the pews a mission feel. He's also forging small copper crosses to grace the tops of pews and be incorporated into new lighting fixtures.

Looking forward

"It's not so much about the building as it is the community," Raab said.

In the July 2 litany that Raab wrote for the ritual locking of Sacred Heart Church's front doors, he asked that God "Restore our hearts." That's also the name of the renovation fund, which has a $2.9 million goal. Anyone who would like to donate may call campaign consultant Chris Cipoletti at 719-633-8711.

The dedication is planned for Feb. 9.

"It's worth saving. That was my goal," Raab said, "so that the building is a real beacon, a well-known symbol of something positive."

Features Reporter/Special Sections Editor

Michelle is a features reporter and editor of The Gazette's annual Best of the Springs and FYI magazines. A Penn State journalism graduate, she joined the Gazette in 2015.

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