Bishop James P. Powers anoints the altar with oil as part of the dedication ritual. (Submitted photo)

Mary Grieco
Special to the Catholic Herald

After planning and dreaming for well over a decade, members of Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Rhinelander are gathering in a completely renovated worship space.

The project was completed just in time for Holy Week liturgies. Bishop James P. Powers presided at an altar dedication Mass and church blessing.

“What a graced moment it is for me as your bishop to be able to celebrate this holy day in the life of this parish and in the lives of each of you,” he said.

Thirteen years ago, the parishes of St. Mary and St. Joseph merged to become Nativity of Our Lord. For the past several years, most liturgies have been held at the former St. Mary site, which is now the “new” church. During the nine months of construction, however, Masses and other celebrations were held at the former St. Joseph site.

Hundreds of parishioners offered their time, talent and treasure to make this project a reality. Without the in-kind work of many, the cost of this $3.6 million undertaking would have been significantly higher.

Among those who volunteered countless hours was Mary Dahl, a retired civil engineer, who stepped forward to take on the role of project manager. Coordinating all the details and staying within a tight timeframe were some of her biggest challenges.

“This was actually a fast build,” she said.

Although plans had been on the table for several years, the impetus to do the majority of the construction last year came from a million dollar grant from the James E. Cleary Foundation, which stipulated the money be spent in 2017.

“I’m glad that requirement was put on this grant,” Dahl said, “and we were able to stay on task. After years of hard work by so many, it is wonderful to see our church building project being completed. I am very proud of what we’ve accomplished and feel very blessed to have been a part of it.”

Fr. Randy Knauf, parochial administrator, also expressed his appreciation for the many volunteers who were involved throughout the process. “This project would not have happened without them,” he said. “If it had been just up to our staff, we definitely would still be in the planning stages.

“We have had 800 benefactors,” Knauf added. “That is a real testament to our community.” Nativity of Our Lord Parish has just over 1,400 households, which translates to more than 3,000 individuals.

Three additions totaling 4,000 square feet were made to the original church. Included are a new entryway, side entrance vestibule, and a large area between the church and school. A 2,500-square-foot part of the existing structure was transformed into a gathering space, which can accommodate overflow seating.

Careful thought was given to furnishing the new worship space. Every effort was made to incorporate existing pieces from both church buildings and to honor the parishes’ histories. In several areas, familiar treasures were blended into the new designs.

The top of the previous altar was made smaller to coincide with current size guidelines. Among the talented crafts people in the parish is Paul Berscheit, who has a concrete cutting business. He volunteered his time, specialized tools, and know-how to carefully cut the marble. The piece that was removed was then combined with oak to form the base of the altar. The tabernacle and ambo stands, as well as the baptismal font, reflect the same design concept.

The existing stained glass windows continue to hold places of prominence in the brightly lit worship space. Most remain in their original places, but with the new additions it was necessary to move some to other locations in the church.

Groth Design Group was the architect for the project. Miron Construction Company was the construction manager.

While the church renovation is complete, a familiar sound from the past will soon be heard. A donor has provided funds to repair the church bell, which will again ring out to welcome worshipers as it did for previous generations.