Church celebrates altar restoration (video)

Jennifer Lee Preyss By Jennifer Lee Preyss

Oct. 6, 2013 at 5:06 a.m.

Diocese of Victoria Bishop David Fellhauer walks down the aisle at Our Lady of Lourdes church in Victoria.

Diocese of Victoria Bishop David Fellhauer walks down the aisle at Our Lady of Lourdes church in Victoria.

Mary Cox stood beneath Our Lady of Lourdes' newly unveiled sanctuary mural Sunday morning and breathed in a long-awaited moment of satisfaction.

It's been seven years since she and Lourdes' pastor, the Rev. Celestino Say, first discussed the possibly of spearheading a sanctuary and altar restoration project - returning the sacred sanctuary to its original 1924 design.

In that moment, breathing in the aroma of fresh paint, she gazed out to the hundreds of faces staring back at her from the historic church pews and realized the church's years of tireless passion and fundraising had paid off.

"Father, you were so courageous to undertake such a large project at an advanced age. ... You have left this parish an incredible legacy of love, of which this project is just one part," said Cox addressing Say, presenting him with a small token painting of the mural as a gift of appreciation. "We are so blessed to have you as our pastor."

Ukrainian artist Bogdan Chernetskiiy, who now resides in Cleveland, Ohio, spent five years in Texas to complete the mural, which depicts important aspects of the 16th and 17th apparitions of Mary, or Our Lady, who revealed herself in 1858 to a shepherd's girl, Bernadette Soubirous, of Lourdes, France.

During the 16th appearance of Our Lady, she told Bernadette she was the "Immaculate Conception."

The apparition later became known as "Our Lady of Lourdes," from which the Victoria church takes its name.

Both the high altar and background mural are intricately painted in soft blues, white and gold to tell the story.

Say praised Chernetskiiy for his work, noting his "extraordinary skill and artistry" and invited him to do additional work throughout the church, beyond the sanctuary. Chernetskiiy was also presented with a gift card for a pair of custom cowboy boots and an official document signed by Gov. Rick Perry, stating Chernetskiiy is an official honorary Texan.

The Most Rev. David Fellhauer, bishop of the Victoria Diocese, also made a special appearance at the church Sunday for Holy Mass, blessing the restored altar and officiating the service.

Members of the parish were thrilled the sanctuary project is completed, and they're ready to enjoy their new worship space.

Kathleen Edwards, who has been a member at Lourdes for 10 years, said the murals exceeded her expectations.

"The altar symbolizes faith ... and I think it is really a testament to God and to the faith of not only the people who worked on it but the faith of the Catholic church in general," she said.

Cox said she's pleased with Chernetskiiy's interpretation of the apparition, and she's convinced the new murals and altar restorations will uplift church patrons for generations to come.

"Sacred art is meant to elevate the spirit and lead one's heart and mind to God," Cox said. "Bogdan's ability to capture the spirit of the gospels and do it in such a way that creates harmony and beauty and peace is overwhelming. And that's what I feel when I look at it - peaceful."



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