Long-awaited by Our Lady of Good Hope’s 964 families, significant renovations to the Fort Wayne parish are nearly complete.
A $2.6 million project to update the almost 50-year-old church and make room for overflow numbers of the faithful culminated Tuesday, May 28, in a Mass with Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades. The bishop dedicated the church’s new altar and blessed it, and also blessed with holy water a new marble ambo, baptismal font, altar of repose and other elements of the renovation.
The first reading of the day was taken from the book of Genesis, and told of Jacob’s dream of a ladder, or stairway, to heaven.
“When Jacob awoke from his dream of the stairway to heaven with angels going up and down on it, he exclaimed, ‘Truly the Lord is in this spot … How awesome is this shrine!’ Coming into your beautiful, renovated church, perhaps you said something similar in your hearts: ‘How awesome is this church!’” said Bishop Rhoades. “It really is a beautiful renovation of this house of God. I congratulate Father Mark and all of you for your dedication and generosity in this important project.”
Jacob called the place where he had the dream of a stairway to heaven on which angels were ascending and descending, “the house of God” and “gate of heaven,” the bishop continued. “Throughout the ages, Christians have referred to their churches this way because they are places built for the worship of God.
“This church is the place where you come as a parish family to meet Christ, most especially in the holy Eucharist, but also in the Word of God, in the sacraments, and in your brothers and sisters. It should be awesome!” he said. “This building was constructed for the purpose of coming into God’s presence, and it should be worthy of the One who dwells here. … it is the temple of the Lord and the gate of heaven. It is a holy place. It is your spiritual home, a place of worship and adoration, a place where you kneel before your Creator. Today we say with Jacob: ‘This is truly the house of God and the gate of heaven.’”
In anticipation of the act of dedicating the new altar, the bishop noted that the Eucharist has been offered at Our Lady of Good Hope ever since the parish was established by Bishop Leo A. Pursley 50 years ago, on July 1, 1969.
“In those first years, Mass was celebrated in the cafeteria at Bishop Dwenger High School and in parishioners’ homes, and then in a little chapel over the garage of the old farmhouse until this church was built in 1972. It’s good to remember in our prayers the founding pastor of Our Lady of Good Hope, Father William Hodde, and all the priests, sisters and laity of this parish who have been so devoted and generous these past 50 years,” he said.
“Today marks an important event in the history of your parish, as you have sacrificed to make your church a beautiful house of God,” he concluded. “May Our Lady of Good Hope continue to intercede for your parish family! May she watch over your devoted, wonderful priests, Father Mark and Father Daniel!”
Father Mark Gurtner, vicar general of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, is pastor of the parish; Father Daniel Whelan is parochial vicar.
Recalling Mary’s “yes” at the Annunciation, the “yes” that allowed the “hope of ages” to become a reality, he added: “Mary is our Mother of hope. May she guide all of us and support us in our trials, teaching us to believe, to hope and to love! May you always honor her here in this beautiful house of her Son!”
Following the homily, the bishop installed in the altar a relic of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and consecrated the altar by spreading sacred chrism over its surface.
New pews, terrazzo floor and a redesigned sanctuary highlight the project.
The church’s ground face concrete block walls were stained and two confessionals relocated to an area of new construction on the south side of the church, where two sacristies also were built in space formerly dedicated to a music office, church organ and choir seating. The previous location of the parish confessionals, cry room and a meeting room – at the back of the worship space – was gutted to create a gathering space, and a glass wall installed between the two. The cry room, along with the organ and choir seating, were moved from the southeast corner of the church to a created space at the back of the worship area.
“The old church was looking very tired and run down. It just wasn’t very attractive to most people,” said Father Gurtner. It was also problematic that nothing separated the worship space from the entryway.
“Before, as soon as you walked in the front door, if you were having a conversation, all that noise went right through the church. So to have a separate space will mean a more prayerful church, while still facilitating conversation and community in the gathering space. Both of those things are important.”
The journey to renovation was long. Initial conversations took place in 2008 but were derailed first by the recession, then by the transfer of Father Gurtner to another parish. He returned to Our Lady of Good Hope two years later, at which time the initiative resumed. The bishop, however, expressed a preference for a new church to be built.
A two-year fundraising campaign to raise the necessary $6-7 million for a new church ensued. It fell significantly short.
“In the end we didn’t raise enough money for a new church … but had the bishop not pushed us to build a new church, we probably wouldn’t have raised as much money as we did,” said Father Gurtner. He noted that the wide scope of donations received reflected the generous personality of the parish. At the end of the dedication and anniversary Mass, he told all who were present, “I think we got a new church.”
Honoring the past, serving the present
“The idea was to square it up as much as possible to get more symmetry,” he said of the redesigned sanctuary. The corpus already in use was mounted on a new cross that matches the color of the new pews; the cross formerly hung in the sanctuary of St. Paul Church in downtown Fort Wayne, which closed in 2003. Statues of Our Lady of Sorrows and St. John flanked the cross when it hung at St. Paul, and they will soon do the same at Our Lady of Good Hope — recreating the crucifixion scene.
A surprise half-million dollar bequeathal from the estate of late Our Lady of Good Hope parishioner Maury Wyss enabled the parish to simultaneously complete construction of a 3,212-square foot, two-story addition on the northwest corner of the church, which will house the parish offices above a St. Vincent de Paul Society Food Pantry office and food storage area funded in large part by a donation from the Mary Cross Tippmann Foundation.
The offices will relocate to the new space later this year, and their former location on the southwest side of the church, between the church and Our Lady School, will be given to school use and for a parish and school meeting space.
To accommodate the construction, daily Mass at Our Lady of Good Hope Parish was suspended, and weekend and holy day liturgies moved to Our Lady School gymnasium, in December. After six months, Rebecca Amik and her son Ayden were excited to be back in the church.
“It’s beautiful, and it feels more intimate,” she said.
Dottie Barnes, who attended the Mass with family that extended down to her great-grandchildren, was similarly appreciative of the beauty of the worship space.
“I’ve been a parishioner here for 32 years,” she said. “I had trouble envisioning from the drawings what it would look like, but this is just beautiful. It’s really something.”
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