Our Lady of Lourdes restored to original 1924 design

Jennifer Lee Preyss By Jennifer Lee Preyss

Dec. 27, 2010 at 6:27 a.m.

Two years after soliciting Austin-based firm Heimsath Architects to restore the original high altar in Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, the firm is moving forward with a complete sanctuary restoration plan.

The project is slated to commence Jan 10., and be complete one month later on Feb. 11. When complete, Phases 1 and 2 of the more than $240,000 project will restore the sanctuary to its original 1924 design, conceptualized by native San Antonian architect Leo Maria Joseph Dielmann.

Dielmann's design replaced the church's original structure built in the late 1800s, which burned in 1923. The 1924 Our Lady of Lourdes Church is on the Register of Historic Places and a recorded Texas landmark. The elaborate cathedral-like, brick structure was originally built for about $40,000. Yet, through the church's near 90-year history, church leaders made subtle changes to the sanctuary - rearranging altars and removing elements of the building that once made Dielmann's design so grand.

The first major renovation occurred in 1966, when the high altar was removed and a marble altar table was added. Then, in 1987, the St. Joseph altar located to the right of the sanctuary was moved to replace the original altar on the sanctuary platform. Paneling behind the altar was eliminated, and the church was repainted, covering some of the decorative muraling from 1966.

"When a congregation has the foresight to build a building for future generations, that building gives us a connection to our past," Heimsath architect and project manager Sandy Stone said. "It reminds us of where we came from, and helps us remember why we're here. It also reminds us that we need to keep that alive for our children and their children."

Stone's team of architects, who specialize in historical restorations and church-specific projects, are energized about the repairs soon to take place at Our Lady of Lourdes.

Changes to the sanctuary in Phase 1 include replicating the ornate main altar to its original 1924 design, restoring and replicating the side altars, replacing the existing altar table, enlarging and lowering the altar platform and relocating the HVAC ductwork and grills and restoring the historic painting in the sanctuary to match the 1924 plans.

"Walking into a building like Our Lady of Lourdes, that has been in continuous use, is like taking a journey back in time that shows us how this congregation has grown, changed and evolved," Stone said. "When it's time to renovate or restore a building, it's done with care, integrating changes that use the past as foundation, but also allowing the building to function for today's needs."

Mary Cox, chairwoman of the church's sanctuary restoration project, is excited to see the project finally get off the ground. For the past several years, she and other church members have worked independently and with the Victoria Diocese to help raise money to bring back Dielmann's design.

"It had been talked about a number of years ago, and we looked seriously into restoring the sanctuary, but the cost was prohibitive, so we tabled it," Cox said.

But when the Victoria Diocese launched its capital campaign, and promised to return 20 percent of all funds raised to area parishes, Cox said the church was more motivated than ever to meet their fundraising goals.

"We rolled up our sleeves and did what we could to raise the money," Cox said. "We knew if we exceeded our fundraising goal, they'd return 50 percent of the money. To date, we've raised about $131,000."

In addition to fundraising efforts, Our Lady of Lourdes was the recent recipient of a $10,000 grant from the John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation of Corpus Christi. The funds are secured for one of the sanctuary's side altars.

Once the project is complete, Cox said the church will begin seeking alternative methods for raising money for Phase 2, which includes a more detailed finish of the sanctuary. This phase may not immediately follow the first, Cox said.

"The scale of the church is so human, it's an intimate church, and it has an intimate feel to it," Cox said. "We're very excited to see this happen."



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