Renovation work and expansion of the historic St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Zachary began about 13 months ago and started as a fairly good-sized project, said the Rev. Chad Jones, rector of St. Patrick’s since 2008.
“We raised all the money we thought we’d need ahead of time,” Jones said.
Shortly after demolition crews began working, the discovery of termites was unearthed as well as years and years of near-catastrophic structural damage.
“At first glance, it seemed like minor damage isolated to one corner, but upon further inspection, it was discovered the damage was more extensive than first believed,” Jones said.
The termite issue set the project back about six months and around $250,000, Jones said.
Repairs to the floor, wall structures, balcony and steeple support were needed. The church was reframed from the inside and new floor and ceiling joists were added.
A side chapel, which was to house the church’s new Phoenix digital organ as well as its choir and a columbarium, was crossed off the work order to offset some of the costs associated with the termite repair work.
Mary Hergert, who has a Ph.D from the LSU School of Music in harp performance, has been the parish organist for more than a decade and now plays the new organ at the back of the church.
Plans are to add a columbarium later to the western side of the back of the church, St. Patrick officials said.
“The acoustics in here are amazing,” said Deacon Camille Wood.
Fabric walls have been added to the top levels of the aft and forward-facing walls of the church to disguise its many speakers, Wood said.
“We like to play our organ music loud. Loud enough to blow your hair back,” Jones said jokingly.
Other added features of the newly expanded church include stained glass windows ensconced in etched glass forward of the nave, which were matched almost perfectly to the original church windows, Jones said.
Also, some of the wood flooring is new and was paired nearly seamlessly to the original white pine flooring that came in the building that formerly belonged to St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, also in Zachary.
Jones explained that in 1976, after the donation of 2.56 acres of land by Dr. Howard Martin, St. John the Baptist sold its building to St. Patrick’s for $2,500.
“The building was literally split in two and hauled down the road to where it’s located now. That was big news in Zachary back then,” said Jones. “People lined the streets to watch the church as it was moved down the road.”
Before the expansion project began, St. Patrick’s parishioners could not attend church all at once and worshipped in three separate Sunday morning services at 8, 9 and 10:45 a.m.
“That was one of two main objectives associated with the project, to be able to all get together as one church family,” Jones said.
Expansion of the church roughly doubled the nave’s seating capacity from 100 to about 220-plus people, and now church parishioners can worship together at one 10 a.m. Sunday service.
The first service since inside renovations have been completed was held Feb. 8.
Parishioners of St. Patrick’s also contributed their time and efforts by assisting in some of the demolition work, the moving of church pews and cleaning and restoring efforts. One member sewed new altar cloths while another built prayer benches.
“We couldn’t have done this without their help,” Jones said.
The expansion project’s other objective was to keep the traditional look and feel of the church.
“So much of how your building looks determines the character of where you worship,” Jones said. “This still feels like a little country church. It still feels like home.”
According to the church’s history, St. Patrick’s was initially founded as a mission of the Diocese of Louisiana on March 17, 1957.
Bishop Robert Witcher, rector of St. Augustine’s in Baton Rouge at the time, began St. Patrick’s church in Zachary on St. Patrick’s Day and combined it with St. Andrew’s church in Clinton, St. Francis in Denham Springs and St. Luke’s in Baton Rouge. Before St. John the Baptist sold the church its building, about 18 Episcopalians would meet in the band room at Zachary High School until 1958, when the four missions were split and St. Andrew’s and St. Patrick’s were yoked as one parish under the leadership of its rector, the Rev. Charles B. Romaine.
Romaine died in a car accident in 1963 on a Sunday morning as he traveled between the two churches, according to the church’s history.
The lineage of St. Patrick’s clergy, following Romaine, includes the Rev. Harry Allen, the Rev. Robert Slocum, the Rev. Stephen Craft, the Rev. Matthew Rowe and the Rev. Miller Armstrong, who was interim priest-in-charge for three years until Jones was appointed vicar at the 171st diocesan convention in March 2008.
Since then, St. Patrick’s has grown from a congregation of about 40 to about 230.
Today, St. Patrick’s includes a day school for pre-schoolers aged 4 and under, Sunday school, Bible study, a women’s group and more.
For more about St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, visit www.stpatszachary.org.