The renovated sanctuary at St. Frederic Church in St. Helens includes a new tabernacle altar, crucifix and hardwood flooring. Pre-upgrades, the tabernacle was located in a side chapel. “The center of our worship and what I preach every day is the holy Eucharist, and that should be at the center of our church,” said Fr. Nicolaus Marandu, pastor, during an Aug. 15 renovation celebration. (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)
The renovated sanctuary at St. Frederic Church in St. Helens includes a new tabernacle altar, crucifix and hardwood flooring. Pre-upgrades, the tabernacle was located in a side chapel. “The center of our worship and what I preach every day is the holy Eucharist, and that should be at the center of our church,” said Fr. Nicolaus Marandu, pastor, during an Aug. 15 renovation celebration. (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)

ST. HELENS — At first it seemed impossible. Parishioners of this small parish, many of whom are low-income families or seniors on fixed incomes, thought they could eke out maybe $16,000, not 17 times that much — the estimated amount needed for overdue church renovations.

But with encouragement from their pastor, Father Nicolaus Marandu, they prayed hard and gave what they could. When the pandemic arrived, they kept at it.

As the three-year capital campaign came to a close this summer, St. Frederic parishioners had raised nearly $272,000.

“We know that great sacrifices were made to have this project happen, and I thank all of you for your tremendous generosity,” Archbishop Alexander Sample said during a Mass at the parish July 11. As part of the liturgy he blessed the new tabernacle altar and baptismal font.

“Years and years and years from now, people will look back in great faith for what you have done for them in creating this lasting heritage and testimony to your faith in Jesus Christ,” said the archbishop. 

Aglow from the summer light, the tabernacle rests on a new altar in St. Frederic Church. (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)

The capital campaign funds went toward a long list of repairs and upgrades, the first since the current church was built in 1983. Among the most treasured renovations was orienting the church interior toward Jesus. The tabernacle, for decades located in a side chapel, is now on a new altar in the sanctuary, while a crucifix hangs on the once-empty wall behind it.

“Having Jesus on the cross and then him right below in the tabernacle makes the connection so much clearer — that it is Jesus we receive in the Eucharist,” said parishioner Katherine Thompson, 35, enjoying a meal with family and friends amid a renovation celebration Aug. 15. The day included Mass, lunch, music by parishioners and speeches by representatives from parish groups.

Father Marandu, pastor of the 110-year-old parish since 2014, remembers the distress he felt when he first entered St. Frederic and couldn’t find the tabernacle. Previously a large banner hung behind the altar with an icon in front of it.

“The center of our worship and what I preach every day is the holy Eucharist, and that should be at the center of our church,” said the priest.

Along with the tabernacle altar, baptismal font and crucifix — handcrafted in Italy — the sanctuary has new hardwood floors, carpeting and piano. The windows, celebrant and choir chairs were replaced, the Stations of the Cross were framed, and the interior and exterior of the church painted. The confessional is now a more welcoming, cozy space and, most importantly, fully soundproof, said Phyllis Dahlin, St. Frederic office manager and bookkeeper.

The crying room also received a makeover. Several Stations of the Cross salvaged from the previous church building were refurbished and hung. And in a ribbon of gold paint around the room are the words “Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee” written in Latin, Italian, English, Swahili, Filipino and Spanish. The five latter languages are spoken by members of the diverse parish community. 

The crying room is among the spaces to receive a makeover. (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)

The rectory roof was replaced, the parish kitchen remodeled and the St. Joseph Conference Room, used for parish meetings and wedding receptions and rented to community groups, received upgrades and new furniture.

“Almost everywhere I look I see the fruit of our labor, and that should inspire us,” said Dick Dahlin Aug. 15. Dick is Phyllis Dahlin’s husband and with his wife was a member of the capital campaign fundraising committee, among numerous other committees.

COVID-19 meant some parishioners couldn’t work or saw their incomes slashed, but the community persisted toward its goal, said Angela Henderson, a parishioner of St. Frederic for three decades.

“Those who have the least often give proportionality the most,” she said. “The church offers you peace in hard times and I think parishioners wanted to take care of it.”

The projects began in 2018, with the church renovations saved until the end.

That order was deliberate. “We didn’t want to make all these important changes but be sitting with rain falling inside or the electrical wiring not working,” said Father Marandu. The priest, savvy with finances, made sure there would be enough funds for the end.

“And we achieved our goal,” said Dahlin. “This year’s Easter Vigil Mass was celebrated in our new and beautiful space.”

A booklet for the renovation celebration featured reflections by leaders of parish groups, including Randy Dixon, president of the parish Women’s Society.

“Every time I enter the sanctuary of the church, it just takes my breath away,” she wrote. “It has given us a great place to pray and adore the Lord.”