The ugly orange carpet? Long gone. The black altar pieces? Ancient history. The off-key organ? Taken care of.
Much money and sweat equity have been poured into St. Hyacinth Church in La Salle, but now comes a bigger challenge: Raising $1.8 million for past-due repairs to the historic church with the distinctive double spires.
The parish kicked off the capital campaign at a Saturday banquet in La Salle, challenging parishioners to dig deep into their pockets and to pledge enough money to get the work going by year’s end.
It’s not that the church is about to collapse – engineers were impressed with how well it’s been maintained – but unless the parish invests in capital improvements now there’s no guarantee St. Hyacinth’s will be around for future generations.
“It’s really remarkable,” said the Very Rev. Tom Otto, pastor. “The Polish immigrants who came here with nothing built this wonderful structure. The brickwork and the plaster are in pretty good shape. But it’s still 130 years old and there are some things that if we don’t work on soon it’s going to be a problem.”
Once the pledges are in, contractors can set about keeping the church around for another 130 years or so.
First up is a new roof. Then, the workers turn to the facade, securing the masonry and tuckpointing a portion of the brick face. Finally, contractors will secure the interior masonry and paint the walls and vaulted ceilings.
“It’s already a beautiful church,” Otto said. “We’re going to add accent color and make it even more majestic.”
The wish list includes other items such as a new sound system, remodeling of the restroom and, in a special touch, illuminating the twin spires. Otto said St. Hyacinth’s is a local landmark and the spires should be visible from the roadways and city green spaces even under the cover of night.
The plans were greeted enthusiastically by some of the dozens in attendance for Saturday’s presentation.
“Oh, I love it,” said Nikki Baer of La Salle. “It (the church) needs lots of love and care so we can keep it another 130-plus years.”
“We’ve been waiting a long time for this,” said Sue Hallen of La Salle, a longtime parishioner. She cited in particular the illumination of the towers, adding, “Coming over the bridge will be so cool.”
“I think they’re beautiful plans and it’s going to be a great success,” agreed Jim Peters, another years-long member of St. Hyacinth’s.
Otto did, however, surprise his parishioners Saturday with some happy news: The capital campaign is already one-third funded thanks to an anonymous donor who pledged $600,000.
At one time, even keeping the church open looked like a shaky bet. The assessment was done shortly before Otto was assigned to La Salle in 2019 and produced a daunting laundry list – and that was before the pandemic arrived and threw any preliminary timetable out the window.
“I think there was some uncertainty,” Otto recalled, “so we did a feasibility study in early 2020 and the study showed it is feasible.
“People have the will and the means to do the necessary repairs and to hand down what’s been handed down to us.”