St. Mary Parish in Melrose has hired a liturgical design consultant to assist the parish community in taking the next step forward in rebuilding the church, which was severely damaged by fire in March 2016.
Based on recommendations from the Diocesan Building Commission, the parish went through a hiring process for the consultant and chose Ken Griesemer of Kenneth J. Griesemer and Associates in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to help it evaluate options.
Griesemer has 30 years of experience collaborating with parishes in liturgical design. His background includes a wide variety of church building and furnishing projects across the country. His approach is to “assist in bringing a faith community together around [a] project, and contribute to the building up of the Body of Christ,” according to the mission and philosophy section of his website.
“We are impressed with his knowledge base and his genuine concern for us and our church,” parish council representative Kurt Schwieters said of Griesemer. “As he has done this good work for many parishes, it gives us confidence that we are about to do great work together. He is very committed to learning about our past and present as he collaborates with us on our future journey.”
Griesemer is planning to visit Melrose in mid-June.
In the months leading up to Griesemer’s hire, the parish council collected information and, in February, submitted a proposal to Bishop Donald Kettler for the “pure restoration” of the church to its original condition.
Following the diocese’s protocol regarding all rebuilding and remodeling projects, Bishop Kettler asked the Diocesan Building Commission to review the proposal and submit its recommendations to him. He reviewed the recommendations and in an April 7 letter to Father Marvin Enneking, pastor of St. Mary’s, the bishop accepted the commission’s recommendation to deny approval for the full restoration proposal.
The report stated that the commission “further recommends that building a new facility that completely addresses a 21st century parish and its future needs is the direction the parish needs to pursue.” The bishop included the building commission’s full report of recommendations, which is posted with his letter on St. Mary’s website, oneinfaith.org.
“As bishop, my primary concern about the restoration of the church has been and is in providing a parish church which is beautiful and honors the liturgical norms of the Church,” Bishop Kettler wrote in the letter. “It must serve the current and future needs of parishioners.”
In rejecting pure restoration of the church, the report noted concerns ranging from structural issues, such as a lack of insulation — which existed prior to the fire — as well as functionality concerns, including the lack of a gathering space and accessible restrooms. It also outlined liturgical considerations, including visibility and audibility issues, that should follow norms created by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for any new construction or renovation of a parish.
Some parishioners who were disappointed by the rejection of the pure restoration proposal held a peaceful protest April 15 on the steps of St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud before the Easter Vigil.
On May 2, Bishop Kettler and the building commission held meetings with Father Enneking and parish leadership as well as with representatives of the group known as Restore St. Mary’s to hear their concerns and answer questions about the recommendations.
“In all of my conversations with the people of St. Mary’s, their love for their parish is evident,” Bishop Kettler said. “I respect and appreciate their commitment to the church’s long and cherished history, and I understand the pain they are going through since the fire. As a diocese, we have mourned with them and are committed to offering our support.
“My hope is that the people of St. Mary’s will work together to create a beautiful space to gather and worship in — one that honors its history by incorporating elements spared from the fire, but that also will serve the needs of God’s people both now and long into the future,” Bishop Kettler said.
“Ultimately, we must remember every church belongs to God first,” he added. “My job as shepherd of the diocese is to ensure that we are good stewards of the resources we have — financial and otherwise — and do what is best for all of God’s people.”
While parish leaders at St. Mary’s plan next steps, the Department of Public Safety State Fire Marshal Division and local authorities are renewing a call for the public to come forward with any information about unsolved cases of church arsons. In the months following the fire at St. Mary’s, investigators determined that the fire was “incendiary,” or “intentionally set.”
“The public’s help is critical in solving arsons,” State Fire Marshal Bruce West said in a May 10 news release posted on the website of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. “Even the smallest detail could break a case wide open. We need people to come forward.”
Anyone with information about the fire can call the Minnesota Arson Hotline at 800-723-2020. Callers can remain anonymous. Information can also be submitted online at www.mniaai.org.