Even as the red dust continues to settle, a celebration will take place on Thursday, Nov. 10 the feast day of St. Leo the Great to mark the 125th year of the St. Leo's Catholic Church in Minot. Bishop Paul A. Zipfel, of the Diocese of Bismarck, and the Rev. Austin Vetter, pastor of St. Leo's Church, and many other priests will concelebrate Mass at 6 p.m. in the church at 218-1st St. SE.
The bell from the original church, built in 1889, has been restored and will sound a death toll 125 times, beginning at 7 p.m. Following that the spires will be lit and more bells will ring.
There has been much activity at the church since May. The red dust that has settled in downtown Minot is a result of workers cutting out the mortar between the bricks to re-point the church's masonry.
Much of the scaffolding had been removed at St. Leo’s Catholic Church, 218-1st St. SE, on Oct. 30.
More than two years ago a building committee was formed to evaluate all the properties of St. Leo's: the church, the school, the community center and the day-care building. The committee prioritized the needs of each facility and had experts in their field "really look at the church," Vetter said. The rectory had already been repaired in 2009.
"From the exterior the church looked like it was fine but until we had someone really crawl around and see what shape it was in some concerning issues with water damage inside the church and we weren't sure where it was coming from we didn't realize how bad things really were," he said.
Grace Fisher, a member of the building committee at the church, has been a member of the church for 79 years. The committee of eight has been meeting with Vetter for more than a year and a half.
"In those early days of the committee we talked about what needed to be done the most in the parish and it was determined to focus on the church itself," Fisher said. "The committee decided to fix the church because if it wasn't fixed we could lose it and that would be a tragedy."
The Rev. Joseph Raith was pastor when the church was built. Fisher, who has compiled a history of the church for previous anniversary celebrations, said "People thought Raith was crazy and that he had grandiose ideas." Raith was pastor of St. Leo's from 1901 to 1941.
Since then many, many souls have been baptized, confirmed, made their First Communion, married and buried from there, Fisher said.
"I think restoring the church to the vision that Father Raith had for it to serve the people and Father Vetter's vision will renew the church for the future," Fisher said.
A fundraising campaign was the first order of business for the restoration project, which cost about $3.5 million. Church members were contacted and asked to make three-year pledges toward the cost of the project.
Dave Cunnien, who is project superintendent for Building Restoration Corp., based in Minneapolis-St. Paul, said the Minot project is a complete building envelope restoration, which involves a new roof on the church and 100 percent tuckpointing, which means taking the white grout off the masonry and some of the old red mortar out and replacing it with the red mortar that matches the brick and the original historic mortar color.
"That's what the original mud was on the church when it was first built," Cunnien said. "Our objective is to get the church back to as close as it was to its original form."
He added, "The roof that we are putting on it now matches what that roof looked like when it was brand new. The old roof had been painted. It had rusted and had holes in it in many locations. This new roof is pretty close to what the roof looked like when the church was first born."
The material for the roof and steeples is steel with an acrylic finish called Galvalume, a 55 percent aluminum-zinc alloy, which looks like a galvanized metal with a matte finish.
A vestibule has been added on the southwest side of the church to deter inclement weather elements from entering the church. It also adds another handicapped entrance to the church. Other handicapped entrances include an elevator at the northeast corner of the church and a ramp entrance on the southeast side of the church, where the glass curtain wall has been replaced with a brick facade. The ramp was part of the 1984 "Project Voice," "Project Lift" and church remodeling project.
The vestibule and facade were designed by Paul Kramer, an architect with Anderson, Wade and Whitty PC, of Minot, and also a member of the church.
"This is really his project, his baby," Cunnien said. "In essence, the project as a whole is his design and we are executing his plan."
The restoration of St. Leo's Church has been a great undertaking for BRC. "It's been a challenging project," Cunnien said. "We knew it was going to be challenging going in and it was even more so than anticipated."
As the project nears completion Cunnien is happy with the outcome. The building is "tight" for the winter and some of the workers will be back in the spring to complete the work.
The number of workers on the job has varied. In addition to the Building Restoration crew, the masonry specialists, there were roofing contractors, electrical, carpentry, insulators and painters on-site. The numbers ranged anywhere from 60 to 80 different actual craftsmen, Cunnien said. BRC tried to incorporate as many local subcontractors as it could for the project.
Cunnien praised the tradesmen, especially the BRC crew. He said their expertise and 60-hour work weeks were an incredible commitment on their part.
"It was a real beehive of activity in August and September when we were really pushing," he added with a chuckle. "The scaffold in itself was its own project."
Chris Sachs, BRC senior project manager, who is overseeing all aspects of the project, said, "This was a major project. There's an incredible amount of work with lots of detail work. It's been a challenging project that has been wonderful to be involved in."
There's a night-and-day difference, he said. The old white grout over the mortar joints created wide, white fake joints has been removed and new bricks, which were specifically manufactured for the project, have replaced more than 5,000 bricks which were deteriorating.
"The church now has a historic look with red brick and red mortar," Sachs said.
The church now appears as it did when it was first built, Vetter said.
"We went back to its original integrity and structure. We want it to last for another 100 years and to keep the dignity of the building. We believe they (the workers) have done a great job in keeping the integrity of St. Leo's Church. The exterior is just gorgeous," Vetter added."
He admitted, though, he had concerns when flooding was taking place in Minot. He had a meeting with BRC and asked if work could be stopped.
"It just didn't feel right to continue the work when the rest of the town was struggling," Vetter said. "And yet they told us, 'We can't stop. We have too much cut out.' It was important to get it (the grouting) all closed in before winter because if that didn't happen the building could be lost," he added.
It was during that time that we felt more strongly than ever, once we were able to be at peace with that decision, that this could be a wonderful sign of new hope for downtown, Vetter added.
Vetter said he approached the bishop and asked if lighted spires could be added to project plans. "The bishop agreed when we told him it was important to show the people in a visible way that we are not going anywhere," he said.
There will be eight lights on the outside of the spires that will light them from dusk until dawn. The pinnacles the crosses at the very top of them will be gilded in gold and will be put up soon.
"When the light hits them it's going to be a beautiful sign and testament of hope," Vetter said. "This isn't our first flood; it isn't our last flood. God has seen it all. It's new to us but it is not new to God or to his church. The church in her 2,000 years of history has been through every imaginable disaster with her people," he added.
"We're not going anywhere and this is a powerful sign that we are stable, we are strong and we are going to be here for a long time to come. The church is with us, doing what she does, offering the sacraments, being a sign of new life, new hope, of reconciliation, of peace and refreshment that comes only from God," Vetter said.
The skilled workers have discovered beautiful, intricate metalwork, the detail work, and are just amazed at it. It's not visible to many of us, but it's there on the backside of spires ... all over the place ... that was simply done for the glory of God, Vetter said.
"First and foremost, this project is for God so that his people can gather together to worship him and to be nourished by the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist. The people of God are at home in his house and this is his house. We wanted to do the very best for our dear Lord and we also knew we wanted to do it for the long term, not a short-term fix. We want it to last well for the sake of the people," Vetter said.