100-year-old structure sparkles
with new life following
$2.5 million facelift
By JEAN ZEHRINGER GIESIGE
The day after Easter, the highest holy day in the Roman Catholic
liturgical calendar, the people of Immaculate Conception Catholic
Church in Celina moved out of their beautiful, 100-year-old
church building on North Walnut Street, and into the gymnasium
across the street so that a renovation project could begin.
They had one day of Easter lilies, then more than seven months
of austerity in the squat and relatively unadorned gym.
This Sunday they will return to their church, in a triumphant
procession behind the Archbishop of Cincinnati, Daniel Pilarczyk,
who will bless the newly refurbished building, consecrate its
new altar and celebrate the first Mass under its restored and
The project was the result of a long and painstaking process
of both conservation and renovation, said Charlie Salway, a
church member who served as the chairman of the steering committee
for the project.
“We spent over a year just talking about it before we
even sat down for the first planning and information night for
the people of the parish,” he said. “We didn’t
want to go at this halfway and rush through the project. Then
we spent a year communicating with the parish, trying to find
out what people perceived were our needs for this church. We
wanted to maintain what had been laid in our hands.”
What had been laid in the hands of the parish was a church building,
completed in 1903, that was a mixture of baroque and Romanesque
architecture. With a seating capacity near 700 and a high, copper-capped
dome, it has been a Mercer County landmark for 100 years.
“The whole idea in church architecture in a building like
this is to be able to walk into a place and feel a sense of
beauty and awe, to give you the idea that you are walking into
the presence of God,” Salway said. “That was well
done in this building.”
There has to be a driving force behind any such building, and
at Immaculate Conception that forces — a force to be reckoned
with — was the Rev. George Hindelang, C.PP.S. He arrived
at Immaculate Conception in 1899 and immediately formed a building
committee to replace the church at the time, which was of more
pedestrian scale. Parishioners raised $52,000, and work began
on the new church a year later.
Many parishioners still have vivid memories of Rev. Hindelang,
who remained at Immaculate Conception until his retirement in
1943, an unprecedented span for a pastor then and now.
“He was a strong leader, and you did what he said,”
said Dorothy Cook of Celina, a parishioner who remembers Rev.
Hindelang from her days as a school girl at Immaculate Conception
School, where he would personally pass out report cards to students
under a stern eye.
With Rev. Hindelang’s church in their hands, the steering
committee members moved cautiously to preserve what they had,
and improve the church where they could. After 100 years, some
modernization was called for. For Dr. Frank Tangeman, a member
of the steering committee, that meant making the old building
more accessible to people with handicaps.
For Salway, it meant enhancing people’s appreciation of
“We have a building here that people are used to worshiping
in — many of them have never known another church,”
he said. “To change it and at the same time make it acceptable
to them was something that weighed very heavily on us.”
During the $2.5 million project, the church building was painted
inside to lighten the ambiance and to draw attention to its
stunning set of 52 stained glass windows, which also were restored.
The pews were removed, stripped and refinished, and now have
been reconfigured to increase the seating to more than 750.
New carpet was installed.
Those are among the first things that will meet the eye for
people who return to the church on Sunday or during tours for
the public on Saturday. Other improvements won’t be visible,
but will be felt all the same. The church has a new state-of-the-art
sound system, improved lighting, new electrical wiring and an
improved heating system.
The project, which required 150,000 pounds of scaffolding, progressed
almost seamlessly during the summer and early fall, as the present
pastor, the Rev. Tom Brenberger, C.PP.S., asked parishioners
to stay away from the site for their own safety and so that
they would not impede the workers, who were aiming diligently
for the Dec. 7 deadline.
Salway, a project manager with the Van Wert construction firm
of Alexander and Bebout, has been toting a briefcase stuffed
full of church paperwork and a laptop nearly everywhere he goes
since before Easter so that he could stay in touch with the
details of the project.
“My boss has been very understanding,” he said.
In early November, he got a call with some bad news: the subcontractors
who were working on the pews would not have them finished until
January, or later.
That meant there would be a seat for the archbishop on Dec.
7, but everyone else would be standing.
“Everything had been going so smoothly until then, and
we were getting right down to the last minute thinking that
everything was going to be perfect,” Salway said. “Then
we got that call, and my first reaction was, ‘That is
not going to work.’ ”
The pew deadline was nonnegotiable, the subcontractor was informed,
and crews have been working this week to install them for Sunday’s
celebration. Glitches like that are both unexpected and expected
in a project of this scale, Salway said.
“All of the contractors (the general contractor was Bruns
Building and Development of St. Henry) did a great job considering
the very aggressive schedule we took on,” he said.
Among those anxiously awaiting the noon Mass on Sunday, when
the church will be reopened to its people, is Agatha Leugers,
who has lived across the street from the church since 1965,
in a house she built on West Anthony Street with her two sisters,
Ludvina and Hilda.
The Leugers family moved from St. Rose to Celina in 1925, when
Agatha Leugers was 9 years old. She’s now 87, and in all
those years has served the parish in many ways. She can remember
as a girl pulling the family’s coaster wagon from their
home on West Wayne Street to East Wayne, where a gardening parishioner
would fill their wagon with flowers, which religious sisters
would then arrange and place on the church’s altars.
“We never bought flowers from florists back then,”
She and her sisters have been curious about the work going on
across the street in their church, but they have only sneaked
looks on their way to weekday morning Mass in the gym —
they’ve not yet broken Rev. Tom’s injunction against
full-scale parishioner peeking.
“I can hardly wait to see it,” she said. “I’m
not going to miss a thing.”
What Salway hopes all the people of Immaculate Conception will
feel on Sunday is a renewed appreciation for the gift that their
forebearers built for them — and a renewed connection
to higher things.
“They should feel like they’ve never left the building,”
he said. “This should still seem like the same safe haven
where they could always go and connect with God. We just hope
they will be a little more awestruck than they were before.”