DONALDSONVILLE— Caring for and preserving a 117-year-old church “is like taking care of an old, old house — the repairs never end,” Ascension of Our Lord Catholic Church parishioner Doug Schexnayder said.
Schexnayder stood at the back of the church pointing to the freshly painted walls and recently cleaned Stations of the Cross, explaining the most recent renovations to the 9,100-square-foot church.
Since Feb. 4, a 10-man crew has been prepping, cleaning and painting the interior walls of the historic church.
It’s been more than 20 years since the church’s walls had received a fresh coat of paint, Schexnayder said.
Schexnayder, who has been volunteering his time as project coordinator, said he and other volunteers are on the job site everyday overseeing the ambitious undertaking.
The project is part of a continuing effort by parishioners to “preserve this beautiful church we have inherited,” Schexnayder said.
Construction on the church, which sits on Mississippi Street, started in 1875. After construction began, a dispute arose over money and the priest in charge of the parish was removed. The dispute landed in court and the construction of the church was stopped for several years. It took 21 years to complete the church, which cost $80,000.
While construction was halted, the large marble columns for the church were left at the edge of the Mississippi River banks, Schexnayder said.
Those marble columns became an important component of the new paint job, he said.
Instead of applying a similar gray paint to the walls, parishioners decided they wanted to have the paint match the columns.
“So, we picked two peachish colors,” he said.
It takes more than a few brushes and gallons of paint to finish a project the magnitude of the Donaldsonville church job, Schexnayder said.
Last year, volunteers with a committee overseeing the renovations, met with two paint manufacturers to determine what type of paint would “work for this old and ever moving church.”
Schexnayder said the church walls don’t have any insulation and therefore, are “constantly expanding and contracting and that means the paint chips off.”
After recommending a flexible type of paint, sealed bids were accepted and Miranda Painting LLC got the job, which is estimated to cost between, $150,000 and $180,000.
“Little things keep coming up that have to be addressed,” Schexnayder said, explaining the price estimation.
The contractors expect to use 260 gallons of paint on the project, Schenayder said.
A sheet of plastic was draped over a statue of St. Joseph as a painter worked above on Feb. 28, more than 60 feet from the floor of Ascension of Our Lord Catholic Church.
Workers with Miranda’s Painting, of Baton Rouge, are taking every effort possible to keep paint from dripping on the antique statues, altars and columns inside the historic church.
“We’ve got lots of fragile stuff in here so we have to be very careful,” he said.
Paint flakes litter the church’s wooden floor and cover the plastic sheets.
The painters are using four hydraulic lifts to reach the high peaks and walls during the job.
The job, expected to take eight weeks, is ahead of schedule.
While the work is on-going, Ascension parishioners are attending church services at St. Francis of Assissi across town.
Palm Sunday services will be celebrated in the freshly painted church.
Many of the church’s 800 parishioners stop by from time to time to peek at the progress, he said.
“Yes, we have visitors every day ... with lots of suggestions,” Schexnayder said.
Most of the money for the project was raised during a one-day food festival held last year.
“This parish is very generous, and we’re very fortunate,” he said.
In addition to the painting, the committee decided to have new stands built for each religious statue.
Retired carpenter Rene Poirrier constructed new stands that match the church’s original interior woodwork.
Schexnayder said the projects could not have been possible without the leadership of the Rev. Paul Yi, the church’s pastor.
“Father Paul has been our inspiration,” he said. “He is a good spiritual leader, and we are fortunate to have him.”
Schexnayder has also received help from committee members Marvin Gros, Raymond Templet, Emile Spano and Phil Hebert.
Volunteers are lined up for a summertime work day to pressure wash the exterior brick sand concrete.
After the painting is complete, the committee will “take a breather” before tackling the next renovation project.
“Like an old house, you’ve always got something on the list,” he said. “For instance, the floors could use some work.”