Bishop Robert W. Muench describes the new Catholic Church in one word - "WOW!"
A dedication mass was held on March 26th to mark the completion of St. George Catholic. The new church creates a welcoming and community oriented environment that architecturally becomes a beacon for the Catholic faith community. The church can seat 1,200 parishioners, and includes a chapel which fits an additional 120 people. Exterior courtyards are designed at both the main entry and the chapel entry to encourage community interaction. This simple, yet elegant design is a collage of transcendental Christian motifs veiled within the fabric of historic religious archetypes, the Gothic Arch.
The Catholic Commentator
March 31, 2017
By Richard Meek The Catholic Commentator
Bishop Robert W. Muench tilted his head upward, first to the left, awe partnering with joy to create a broadening smile. As if on cue, the bishop then looked up to the right, his facial expression telegraphing his exuberance.
Finally, he raised up his hands and exclaimed, “Wow!” to the delight of a congregation that broke out in applause at St. George Church in Baton Rouge.
Moments earlier, outside under the canopy of a brilliant early spring sun, the bishop had been handed the keys to the stunning new church, officially unlocking the future for the second oldest parish in Baton Rouge with roots dating to the 1840s.
“Today, once again St. George Parish makes history and all of you present are part of that history,” he said during his homily of the dedication Mass on March 26. “The story of this parish is fascinating. What great priests and great parishioners this church has had and has.
“I have always been proud of you, the parishioners of St. George,” he added. “I have never been more proud than I am today.”
The beautiful two-and-half hour ceremony was punctuated with symbolism and sacred rites, including the bishop blessing the baptismal font, anointing the altar with chrism oil and clergy members doing the same on the church walls, the lighting of the altar and the placing of relics of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta and St. John Neumann in the main altar and the chapel altar, respectively.
Also included in the ceremony was a eucharistic procession led by Father Jamin David, pastor of St. Margaret Queen of Scotland Church in Albany that culminated in the blessing of the tabernacle.
“Five years ago I said I’ll believe it when I see it,” St. George pastor Father Mike Schatzle said shortly before the end of Mass. Indeed, Father Schatzle and nearly 1,200 people saw the culmination of aprocess which seeds were planted in 2008 when the idea of a preK-4 building was discussed. Father Schatzle said it was determined the only place that made sense to put the proposed new building was the site of the church.
Father Schatzle, in an interview with The Catholic Commentator during the week leading up to the dedication, said a firm was then hired to survey parishioners to determine if they would rather see a new church constructed and renovate the old church to a preK-4 building or vice versa. He said those answers were about evenly split.
However, a second question was far more revealing. When parishioners were asked if they would donate money to build a new church, Father Schatzle said the response was overwhelmingly positive.
“We took a leap of faith,” he said.
In the spring of 2014 an executive committee was formed and chose GraceHebert of Baton Rouge as the architects. During the same time, Father Schatzle and several other parishioners visited eight to nine churches in the Houston area to glean ideas from churches with seating capacities of at least 1,200.
A capital campaign followed, and to date $18.3 million has been pledged for the $21 million project that also includes tearing down the old church and constructing a center for children up to four years old. Father Schatzle noted the church was first estimated to cost in the neighborhood of $12 million but the bids came in at $17 million.
“The people really responded,” he said, his voice bursting with pride. “They were very generous. “St. George has a history of always what is the next step we need to take for the good of St. George. And the people responded. They were very generous and very excited.” The result is a state-of-the art building that features four video screens; lighted stations of the cross; captivating stained glass windows by local artist Steve Wilson featuring the sacraments of baptism, the Eucharist and confirmation; uniquely shaped pews that encourage fellowship along the congregation; a daily chapel and a high-tech sound system.
Even the main aisle is unique, with medallions crafted into the floor featuring the sacraments of reconciliation, anointing of the sick, marriage and holy orders. “We wanted to mix in the best of the old with the new,” Father Schatzle said. “There is a lot of symbolism throughout the church.”
Parish administrator Martin Hernandez, who Father Schatzle credits for much of the church’s beauty and opulence, used the internet to locate stations of the cross that were more than a century old. Father Schatzle said the stations were being stored in a warehouse in Pennsylvania.
Likewise, Hernandez used the internet to locate 100-year old bells, which came from a closed church in St. Louis. The bells feature German inscriptions and are hanging in a bell tower standing sentry over the church.
“I’m very pleased with the end result,” Father Schatzle said. “When you enter the church, there is a sense of the sacred, a sense of God’s presence.”
Before the final blessing, Bishop Muench looked at Father Schatzle and with a smile, said, “Father Mike, you pulled it off,” to which the congregation gave their pastor a lengthy and enthusiastic standing ovation.
The bishop also noted that Father Schatzle was completing his 12th year at St. George in June, which would mean he would be reassigned. In a playful manner, the bishop asked the congregation, “What do you think if I gave him an extra year?” A second rousing ovation caused the bishop to respond, “I think that is what people call a jury’s unanimous decision.”