December 15, 2023 // Diocese

St. Adalbert Receives $250,000 Grant for Renovations

The National Fund for Sacred Places recently awarded St. Adalbert Church in South Bend with a $250,000 matching grant to help the Catholic parish implement building improvements. The organization gives renovation funds to churches of all denominations across the country. The grant is generally given to churches with historical significance, remarkable architecture, and community impact.

Photos by Kasia Balsbaugh
Father Ryan Pietrocarlo, Pastor of St. Adalbert Parish in South Bend, and parishioner Donald Popielarz, both of whom are shown in the photo at right, say renovations are desperately needed to the interior of the church, above.

This year, St. Adalbert Catholic Church was one of 371 congregations that applied for the grant. There were 30 finalists, from which 16 were selected. St. Adalbert was one of only two Catholic churches chosen to receive the grant worth a quarter of a million dollars.

“This year was the most competitive yet, and the members of the new cohort stood out for their admirable commitment to using their historic religious properties as civic assets,” Bob Jaeger, President of Partners for Sacred Places, said in a statement. “We are excited to collaborate with the National Trust in serving faith leaders who are working hard to ensure that their buildings are preserved, fully used, and able to serve their communities over the long term.”

Holy Cross Father Ryan Pietrocarlo, Pastor of St. Adalbert, and Donald Popielarz, the coordinator of the renovation project, intend to use the grant to help fund a $14 million renovation project.

The economic impact of St. Adalbert Catholic Church is around $2.7 million per year, which Popielarz points out makes the return on the renovation investment very much worth it.

“That’s very, very important for a lot of reasons, from the spiritual standpoint, but also from a purely economic, secular standpoint too, because this parish is really the de facto community center of the West Side,” Popielarz said. “This is home base for a lot of people.”

The St. Adalbert community is primarily made up of first- and second-generation Hispanic immigrants, many of whom only speak Spanish. A small percentage of the church community are elderly members who are descendants of the original founders of the church, which was founded almost 100 years ago in 1926 by Polish immigrants.

And the church is still busy and growing, as evidenced by the fact that it averages 40 funerals, 25 weddings, and almost 80 baptisms a year.

In 2003, St. Adalbert Catholic Church became a ministry under the Congregation of Holy Cross, the community that founded the University of Notre Dame. Father Pietrocarlo explained that part of the reason for that change was the closing of a former Holy Cross church, St. Stephen, in downtown South Bend in that same year.

“The church was knocked down due to structural instability,” Father Pietrocarlo said, “which gives more impetus for this project because a lot of our parishioners remember that. And so it’s important to care for this church so we don’t have the same thing happen.”

The repairs needed at St. Adalbert are extensive, parish leaders told Today’s Catholic. Necessary repairs will take priority in the first phase of the renovation project – repairs that include fixing falling plaster and paint, water damage, disintegrating wooden railings and windows, and the roof, among other things.

One of the biggest renovations needed is fixing the left steeple of the church, which is slowly shifting. Professionals have also informed church officials that the stained-glass window in the steeple is slightly bowed because of the instability.

The second phase of the project will include replacing the 1950s boiler for heating and, leaders hope, putting in new air conditioning.

Phase three involves building accessible men’s and women’s restrooms in the back of the church, which will be made possible by enlarging the narthex. The 900-seat church currently only has one bathroom.

The last phase of the renovation will involve restoring the church’s many murals and artwork.

Due to its historical and architectural value, officials say the church building is worth saving. For instance, the stained-glass windows, which were added after World War II, are of “very high quality,” Popielarz said. “One historical preservationist thought these windows are equal in quality to Tiffany,” he added.

Another important part of the renovation is the repainting of the church’s interior. The current paint job on the ceiling and pillars is not original to the church; Popielarz calls it part of a “wreckovation of the 1980s.” The new paint will be as close as possible to the original coloring, and Popielarz and Father Pietrocarlo are trying to find wedding photos in the church from the 1970s to match the colors as best they can.

Church leaders reiterated the need for the community’s help – first, by sharing any wedding photos in color anyone might have before the interior of the church was repainted in the 1980s. Second, monetary donations are also very much welcome. Contact the parish office (574-288-5708), Father Ryan Pietrocarlo ([email protected]), or Donald Popielarz ([email protected]) for more information.

To help supplement the money they received from the National Fund for Sacred Places, the parish is applying
for other grants, including Indiana Landmarks’ Saving Sacred Places. They continue to contact potential donors and foundations from across the country.

The renovation plans have been underway for more than two years at this point. Having been cautioned by the project’s architect that further delay would be costly – and that delaying renovations another 10 years could result in building failure – Popielarz said the project has “reached a critical point.”

“We’ve planned,” Popielarz said. “The time for doing is now.”

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