Pride and sweat put a shine on St. Joseph Parish completes church restoration NORTHWEST -- Taneytown* Union Bridge*New Windsor* Uniontown

December 24, 1992|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Staff Writer

Long before they brought out their Nativity scenes and Advent candles, some members of Taneytown's St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church were filled with the holiday spirit.

For them, it began in January, when they set out to renovate their more than 100-year-old building.

"We just wanted to help out the church any way we could," said Don Kraus, president of the Holy Name Society, which was instrumental in the restoration project. "Anyone who had a particular skill we needed was eager to help. They gave 100 percent of their efforts."

St. Joseph has an complex and celebrated history, said Linda Webster, a parishioner who coordinates the Christmas Eve youth pageant.

When it was established in 1797, St. Joseph was the main Catholic church in the region.

However, it changed into a mission church when St. John in Westminster became the primary parish about 50 years later.

When the current building was constructed on Frederick Street in 1876, the church became a parish of its own, and, say church leaders, has enjoyed a close-knit, family-like atmosphere since.

Its choir loft houses one of the oldest pipe organs in the state, built in London in 1804 for a Baltimore church.

The congregation wanted the church renovation to reflect its celebrated history.

"I was willing to give them my know-how, donate whatever I could," said Mr. Kraus, who learned carpentry and woodworking from his father and brothers.

When the church officers decided to make some long-needed repairs early in the year, Mr. Kraus and his group got involved.

"The church contracted out to get the sanctuary painted and carpeted, so they paid for material and labor for all that," Mr. Kraus said. "But for the work we did, all they paid for was materials."

Church members worked for months to put the luster back into the antique lighting, the ancient oak and poplar pews and the church ceiling fans.

"The ceiling fans were tight to the ceiling, which blew a ring of dirt up above them. They were installed improperly about 10 years ago," Mr. Kraus said. "We went up there and rewired a little, dropped them lower. And now, the dirt doesn't collect up there."

The diamond-shaped lights hanging from the ceiling, which had been in the church since the 1930s, were worn and dull, the opaque glass in the framework shattered and chipped over time.

"The tips of them were so dirty I couldn't tell whether they were plastic or metal or what. They turned out to be copper," Mr. Kraus said.

"The copper base was black from age," said Edward Losiewicz, a retired Food and Drug Administration worker and member of the Holy Name Society. "We took them out, repaired the broken glass and buffed the copper to make it shine."

The final project for the volunteers was polishing the 28 pews, which had come from another church in the 1930s.

In the middle of July, the men of the Holy Name Society began the task, taking six pews at a time to Mr. Kraus' machine shop on his Bark Hill Road farm.

The three-week operation had the men working two hours each night sanding, polishing and then transporting the finished pews for storage in the church school.

During the repairs, parishioners celebrated Mass on folded metal chairs that sat in the newly carpeted, freshly painted sanctuary.

"Some [pews] had cracked moldings and needed minor repairs, but they were all dull-looking," Mr. Kraus said. "We used an oil bond and wood cleaners to soften the finish."

But then, the workers had to put them back.

"We thought we'd be in the church all night," said Mr. Losiewicz. "But we timed it. It took us one hour to put those 28 pews back in here, screwed through the floor and all."

Through careful planning, mainly on Mr. Kraus' part, said Mr. Losiewicz, holes were predrilled through the floor and plates inserted to direct the men where to put the pews.

"It was teamwork that put the project in place. We all pulled together," Mr. Losiewicz said. "The camaraderie that developed between the people working together was wonderful."

Mr. Kraus agreed, adding, "Everyone got involved in some way. Whether it was trying to provide refreshments continually, or just giving us a few minutes, people came together for the church."

Individual contributions, like Bill McKenzie's carved wooden banner holder and hymn directory and the new drapes in the confessional and cry room areas from Eva Chapman and Helen Losiewicz, added to the spirit of giving.

"It certainly made the people who were working on the projects feel good," Mr. Kraus said. "It felt terrific to have the Holy Name Society working together as a unit."

And as a unit, the parish will celebrate Christ's birth tonight and watch their children dressed as Mary, Joseph, angels and shepherds during the youth pageant.

"Christmas isn't just a December 25th thing in Taneytown," said Ms. Webster, who has been coordinator of the youth pageant for 14 years. "It's sort of an all-year thing.

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