This is the story of the Holy Family Church restoration project from 2003, and a bit about its fascinating history. The church is the cultural center for this small farming community of Freeburg, Missouri.
First published in the “St. James Leader-Journal” in 2003, here’s the story.
The Holy Family Church
“Hey, did you hear the news? Jesus got run over in Freeburg.” Those lines, although never actually reported as such, seemed inferred by newscasters several years ago. It certainly got people’s attention — the notion of someone hitting Jesus. Actually, the driver hit a statue of Jesus. It stood in front of the Holy Family Catholic Church on Highway 63, in Freeburg, Missouri.
The parishioners promptly replaced the statue and set Jesus farther back from the road. This year, the church undertook a much greater task than replacing a statue. In fact, they’ve set to work on all the statues within the church, plus the altars, the railings and the interior walls.
Restoration of the Holy Family Church
To do the job properly, the church hired the firm of Max Autenrich Church Interior Decorating, of Edwardsville, Illinois. It specializes in church interior decorating. Workmen started in May, and have been refinishing pews and doors, laying ceramic tiles and moving the main altar forward.
The most spectacular result, though, has been the fresh facelift the paint crew has given the interior. Working from a wedding photo that depicts the interior of the church in 1957, the crew stippled, stenciled and created wood-grain and marbleized effects on the walls and ceilings.
On the day that I visited the church, Andy Wasser worked to apply gold leaf trim from thin sheets of paper to the side altar. Andy created the stencils for the friezes. He matched paint colors of soft peach and blue to those formerly used and to those found in the statues.
About the Statues
They sent the statues to Illinois, to be airbrushed and brought back to life, in a 3-dimensional effect. They now stand waiting to be set on altars and stations throughout the church.
Another major change will be in the mural that will be placed on the high nave. The new mural will depict the Holy Family at work.
The parish donated about $225,000 for the restoration project. When you consider that 225 families have borne the major brunt of this goal, it’s incredible. The parish is looking forward to the church’s centennial in May 2004. With that goal in mind, it’s easy to see why they want their church to be refreshed.
The Church Statues and Their History
In fact, there’s a story circulating about these folks in Freeburg who refused to let go of the beautiful statues in their church in the 1970s. During that time, the Vatican decreed that its churches appeared too gaudy. An edict came out to banish icons.
The parishioners hid the statues in closets, and rumor has it that some of the statues found their way to haylofts. One parishioner told me, “We said, ‘Let it start in Rome first.’”
The project should be finished by the time the annual church picnic rolls around. Supposedly, this picnic is one of the best in the series of Catholic parish picnics held throughout the summer and fall in the Germanic region of Missouri. The public is invited to attend the picnic and to view the newly redecorated and restored church.
Why You Might Go to Church
I recommend stopping by on a weekday. Take a few minutes to sit alone in the splendor of the church. While stimulating to the eye, the church is an excellent place to spend a few quiet minutes. You might find yourself refreshed and your spirit recharged.