The steel frame is finished, the walls are up, half the arched roof is in place and, if all goes according to plan, the new St. George Catholic Church will be completed in time for services in February.
Located just off Siegen Lane, the towering structure, built in the shape of a cross, is a $17 million, 27,000-square-foot combination of steel, concrete, brick and wood, blending new technology with old accoutrements.
“We wanted a sacred space that is the center of who we are called to be. It gives the glory to God,” said the Rev. Michael J. Schatzle. “Our goal is to do the best of the new with the best of the old, and I think we have that.”
St. George is one of the more visible signs of growth in some churches in the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge.
Renovations have been completed at St. Jude the Apostle Church on Highland Road, and a second phase of its capital improvement effort is beginning with a ministry and administrative building. According to the church’s website, new buildings will include additional meeting, conference and ministry rooms, a nursery and administrative offices.
Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church, in the 2000 block of Main Street, is gearing up for an ambitious, $755,000 multiphase “Growing into the Future” capital campaign to upgrade its church and school facilities. Plans include painting and preserving the church’s interior and exterior, restoring the organ, renovating many of the school buildings and upgrading the courtyard and memorial gardens.
Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church, in the 400 block of Marquette Avenue, will soon launch a major “Traditions for Tomorrow” capital campaign that will include a new gym and Early Childhood Center for the prekindergarten through eighth-grade school. The church is hosting a series of meetings to clarify goals and its Master Plan for the next 15 to 20 years.
In Zachary, work is progressing on the new $7.2 million St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, which should be finished late this year or in early 2017. Like St. George, it is a cruciform design and will seat more than 800 people, along with a space for community gatherings before and after Mass, two cry rooms, a separate choir loft, a bride’s room, ushers’ room, dedicated space for the liturgical ministry and a covered outdoor drop-off area. Also, two side altars, confessionals, a vesting room and sacristy will be included. Additionally, a 40-seat adoration chapel, complete with a glass ceiling, will be lit at night and connect to the main church through a landscaped garden. The number of families attending St. John has risen from 485 in 2004 to about 1,400 today.
And St. George, like St. John the Baptist, is a growing congregation.
Founded in 1908, when Siegen Road was gravel and the St. George neighborhood was considered to be far out in the country, the congregation has been steadily growing to its 3,000 families today.
The St. George campus covers 30 acres of land and includes a school of multiple buildings from prekindergarten to eighth grade for 1,100 students, Schatzle said. In fact, the current church was built in the 1960s as a gym for the schools.
The new church is a part of a larger, $20 million package, that also includes a new $3 million prekindergarten school, Schatzle said.
“We have a very generous congregation,” he said, “a lot of ownership by the congregation, and they have really responded.”
The new prekindergarten school will replace the current church.
“We have over 200 families with children 3 years old and younger,” Schatzle said. “We looked all over campus and found that where the church is is the best place for it.”
Maintenance Director Randy West reared his family in the church, and his wife was a teacher here for 20 years.
“I’ve been here for 35 years, and I’ve witnessed a lot of projects, and this is the most exciting one ever,” West said. “The dedication and support and continuity of St. George and our parishioners is amazing. We’re so proud of this place, it is unbelievable. When this new church gets built, it will be even better.”
To incorporate the church history into the new structure, the altar, ambo, tabernacle and crucifix from the old church will be used, Schatzle said, but other furniture, like the long, curved pews in the 1,200-seat sanctuary, will be new.
A modern sound system will complement the peals of three antique bells, salvaged from a closed St. Louis-area Catholic church, that will be hung in the bell tower, Schatzle said. Stations of the Cross, rescued from a closed Catholic church in Philadelphia, will rest below new, colorful stained-glass windows being made by Stephen Wilson, an award-winning local artist.
What is really new is the construction method using precast concrete and brick walls, Schatzle said. For two years, the building committee and architects from GraceHebert visited nine or 10 recently built, precast churches in Texas, he said, before deciding on the new methodology.
Standard construction usually entails masons laying row after row of steel-reinforced blocks and bricks.
Carl LaCombe, site superintendent for general contractor Milton J. Womack, explained that the walls are precast at a plant in Alabama, where they pour concrete into a large mold, including the veneer of bricks. After the panels dry and cure, they are transported in pieces, lifted into place with a large crane and then bolted to the floor and steel skeleton.
“It’s the first time we’ve ever done it,” LaCombe said. “It is a little different, but it makes a really nice final product. It will be something they can be very proud of.”
The high ceiling is framed by giant, arched beams, made of wooden strips glued together into bent shapes that peak at 57 feet above the floor, LaCombe said. The ceiling is made of dark brown, 4-by-6-inch tongue-and-groove boards that are 20 feet long and were hand nailed — no nail guns — into place.
The cross-shaped sanctuary is the center of the building and is flanked by restrooms, classrooms, dressing rooms and a 40-seat adoration chapel, according to the floor plan.
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