Abbeville church gets heavenly restoration

By Bruce Brown
Published in The Daily Advertiser, Abbeville

Sanctuary of St. Mary Magdalen getting face-lift

The Parishioners at St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church wouldn’t recognize the sanctuary these days.

Scaffolding crisscrosses the entire inside of the church, from floor to the ceiling high above, as workers focus on the numerous aspects of an extensive renovation of the building.

On Friday, they were installing four stained-glass windows in the apse of the church, as well as replacing some of the 10 murals of saints that line the ceiling.

“It’s challenging,” said stained-glass craftsman Bud Thomas, a key member of the team from the award-winning Conrad Schmitt Studios in Wisconsin that is performing the renovations.

Bud Thomas installs conserved window

“The studio probably does six large restorations a year,” Thomas said. “This is only four windows, but it’s unique. These windows used to be in these openings and now they’re going back here. Most of the panel had to be replaced.”

The windows were taken out when extensive paneling replaced the windows in the apse and needed extensive repair to be used again.

“The leading had deteriorated, and they fixed that,” said the Rev. William Blanda, pastor, who has been at the parish for seven years. “They also had to create expansions to fit them into their old spaces.

“The windows were stored in an attic for years. My predecessor, Father Theriot, discovered them in the attic in the 1980s. Two were put in the rectory and two in offices. We saw an opportunity to put them back where they once were.”

Returning the windows to the apse, and the redesign involved, will bring much more light into the sanctuary. The windows were sent to Wisconsin for repair, and Thomas and crew are back to install them.

“The work is so labor intensive,” Thomas said. “They were de-leaded, cleaned, then put back together. So many hands are involved. The glass itself was in surprisingly good condition, but the lead had deteriorated to a point I hadn’t seen before.”

The windows will be one showcase of a project that displaced parish members to Vermilion Catholic High School for masses shortly after Easter. The projected completion date is in December, and parishioners will be rewarded for their patience.

“We have two phases to our capital campaign,” Blanda said. “The first, in 2004, was for $1.8 million. That was used to fix and re-lead existing stained-glass windows, put storm sashes on all the windows, waterproof and fix the steeple after damage from Hurricane Lili. We also fixed the air conditioning and roof at Vermilion Catholic.

“The second phase was begun a year ago, for $2.9 million. We have $1.7 (million) of that now. It’s solely dedicated to the interior. Some of it was storm-related, some just from years of deterioration.

“We’re fixing all the plaster, updating the lighting, changing the floor, getting a new console for the pipe organ and a new sound system. And, we’re getting the new murals on the ceiling.”

Those murals were created by Bulgarian artist Stoyko Stoykov, who was smoothing a mural of St. John Berchmans, patron saint of altar servers, into place during Friday’s work session.

“The murals are just exquisite,” Blanda said. “He’s a top-notch artist.”

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