Bishop Walker Nickless pours chrism, anointing the new altar at St. Mary Catholic Church in Willey. Mass server is Brett Sibbel.
Bishop Walker Nickless pours chrism, anointing the new altar at St. Mary Catholic Church in Willey. Mass server is Brett Sibbel.
May 14, 2013


With faith in a strong future, St. Mary Catholic Parish on Sunday celebrated blessing of its renovated parish hall and new church altar and pulpit.

During the Mass, Sioux City Diocese Bishop Walker Nickless consecrated and blessed the altar, and following that service he blessed the parish center, which adjoins the church.

At the start of the service, Nickless said, "Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is a day of rejoicing. We have come together to dedicate this altar by offering the sacrifice of Christ. May we respond to these holy rites, receive God's word with faith, share at the Lord's Table with joy, and raise our hearts in hope. Gathered around this one altar we draw nearer to Christ, the living stone, in whom we become God's holy temple."

In the anointing, the bishop poured chrism in the middle of the altar and on each of its four corners. The Catholic Encyclopedia says chrism "is a mixture of oil of olives and balsam, blessed by a bishop in a special manner and used in the administration of certain sacraments and in the performance of certain ecclesiastical functions."

"We now anoint this altar," Nickless said. "May God in his power make it holy, a visible sign of the mystery of Christ, who offered himself for the life of the world."

That was followed by incensation of the altar, with the bishop saying, "Lord, may our prayer ascend as incense in your sight. As this building is filled with fragrance so may your church fill the world with the fragrance of Christ."

Candles were then lit at both sides of the altar. The bishop said, "Light of Christ, shine on this altar and be reflected by those who share at this table."

Following Mass, the congregation and bishop gathered in the parish hall, where complete renovation began the first of the year and was completed May 1.

Nickless said at the blessing, "It will be a center for our parish activities and a place where we may come to know one another and give witness to our faith in Christ."

In the prayer of blessing, he said, "May all who come here know the presence of Christ, experience the joy of His friendship, and grow in His love."

A plaque at the entrance of the parish hall honors the gift from the estate of the Bayer family, who farmed south of Willey, that entirely funded the renovation.

The parish hall originally built on the south side of the church in the mid-1980s to house the first- through fourth-grade classrooms of Dedham-Willey Catholic School. However, the school closed after only four years when it merged with Holy Spirit in Carroll. Holy Spirit later consolidated into the Kuemper Catholic School system. Shortly after closing, the Willey school was converted to the parish hall but still had a school look, with chalkboards at each corner of the room.

The renovation remade the hall from floor to ceiling and wall to wall, including new furniture, light fixtures, carpet, flooring, paint and windows. The kitchen was expanded and new appliances installed. The restrooms were expanded, made handicap-accessible and include baby-changing stations. A bridal changing room was added where wedding parties can prepare for wedding ceremonies.

The parish center seats up to 240 people and is used for an array of functions throughout the year, and parish directors are anticipating an even busier schedule as the renovated facility draws interest.

In the church, the new altar and pulpit, also called ambo, was built by Gunder Church Furniture of Dakota City, Iowa. The altar replaces one that was installed after Vatican II allowed priests to face the congregation while celebrating Mass.

The new altar and pulpit mirror the ornate design of the back altar and side shrines of the church, which was built in 1910.

The new altar and pulpit were made possible by gifts from the late Louis Schmitz, and Lorena Grossman and her husband, the late Bob Grossman.

Bishop Nickless said in a brief interview with the Times Herald following Sunday's blessings, "I'm very pleased to be able to consecrate and bless a new altar. It's a very significant part of all our Catholic churches. The altar represents Christ. We were able to consecrate it and make it very special for the use of celebration of the Mass and eucharist, which represents the Last Supper. So the altar's very important, and now we have a beautiful piece that's another part of this great church of St. Mary. And the ambo where the word of God is preached, is also new and I blessed that."

He added, "I'm impressed with how beautiful the altar is and how it matches the existing church. Somebody did a lot of work to make that happen. So we're pleased to have something so similar to the back altar. And it now comes together beautifully."

Nickless said the parish-hall renovation has made that a state-of-the-art building that will serve the community for many years.

"Yes, the parish hall or parish center is beautiful. It's just magnificent," he said. "The people here have done a great job of making this a very nice place for so many people who can use it, not only for the parish but for the community as well.

"So it's a real sign of Christ's presence. The church is here. Willey is blessed my many, many holy things and now the church is one more facet of that with its new hall and its new altar."