Honoring heritage, unity essential to Our Lady of Lourdes’ restoration

| Abby Vakulskas | July 6, 2018 | 0 Comments
The renovation of Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis features rich oak accents and a light “Marian blue” ceiling.

The renovation of Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis features rich oak accents and a light “Marian blue” ceiling. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Minneapolis’ oldest continuously used church building recently underwent a substantial restoration.

Built in 1854, Our Lady of Lourdes has experienced a handful of cosmetic and structural restorations over the years to keep it up to date and sound. The most recent project, however, focused solely on cosmetics and attempted to return the worship space to its roots.

“It’s important that when a parish does any sort of restoration work that it be done in order to recover the original spirit of the church … and be renewed to journey into the future,” said Nick Markell, a Catholic artist based in Stillwater who was among the artists that worked on the restoration.

The changes include new flooring, artwork, paint and the relocation of the grotto outside. They are meant to blend past and present, such as the addition of new light fixtures that are nearly identical to those in the original church. The crucifix, which was moved from the side of the altar to become the central focal point, is also a significant part of the parish’s history: It is the same crucifix brought by French-Canadian Catholics who founded the parish, and it has been restored as well.

Father Dan Griffith, Our Lady of Lourdes’ pastor, said the principles of Catholic aesthetics and unity were major themes of the renovation. These aesthetics include the use of earthen materials, sacred art, symmetry, and the contrast between light and dark.

That contrast is achieved with rich oak accents and a light “Marian blue” ceiling, which gives an airy, spacious feel. This blue connects with Mary’s sash in the Lady of Lourdes statue, reminiscent of the original statue in France and repainted by Markell, adding to the theme of unification.

Father Griffith noted the particular dedication of local artist Audrey Stommes, who painted the sunburst around the chandelier at the top of the dome.

“She did that work for hours on her back, by hand,” he said.

A new mural of saints on the northeast wall, painted by Markell, is another nod to the heritage of “the Little French Church.” It depicts St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. John the Baptist and St. Francis, as well as animal icons that are significant to French and French-Canadian history.

“The backdrop to the mural is an iconic depiction of St. Anthony Falls, which also echoes the reality of baptism,” Markell said. “Thus, the mural has an historic dimension as well as a theological dimension: It reminds parishioners of their heritage as well as their own baptism and our journey of faith.”

Our Lady of Lourdes parishioners cherish its close proximity to St. Anthony Falls, which French Jesuit and explorer Father Louis Hennepin visited in 1680. Its church was originally built for a Universalist congregation; in 1877, it was purchased for the French Canadian Catholic community, who had worshipped at nearby St. Anthony of Padua, Minneapolis’ oldest parish. Our Lady of Lourdes was the first in the United States to be named for Mary’s apparition at Lourdes, France.

The restoration began in the fall of 2017 and continued swiftly, as the parish worked to finish in time for the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes in February. The growing size of the community, which has nearly tripled in the past six years, added to the momentum. Parishioners, artists, and community members alike stepped up to make it happen.

“I’m very grateful to the parishioners, to our committee, to the artists [and] our staff,” Father Griffith said.

The success of the roughly $365,000 restoration relied on donations and a capital campaign to raise funds, led by parish communications director Julie Craven and her husband, Doug. Because Father Griffith and others on the parish committee had prior church restoration experience, Our Lady of Lourdes was essentially able to act as its own contractor, considerably lowering costs. This, combined with surpassing the expected fundraising goal, allowed for the restoration of the ceiling, which was an unplanned bonus.

The work that had been done in previous restorations and the support of the community was indispensable as well, its leaders said.

“The folks that came before us made sure it was sound and stabilized, and this was an opportunity to make it [more] beautiful,” Craven said.

Parishioner Walter Broughton agreed. “It’s just part of the history; now it’s our turn to make a contribution to that history,” he said.

Reactions to the restoration have been positive. Valerie Broughton, a Lourdes parishioner and director of faith formation, said she appreciated the intention and attention to detail put into the restoration, such as the repositioning of the crucifix.

She also expressed how the new iconography can be a teaching tool.

“We’ve learned a lot about art in the church throughout this restoration,” she said. “It gave me the perspective of how we can learn and pray in different ways, not just through words.”

Father Griffith summarized Our Lady of Lourdes’ ultimate goal for the restoration: “We are really hopeful that this will become even more a place of prayer.”

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