Scaffolding down, Gesu restoration continues

Photo by Danny Alfonzo/ daniel.alfonzo@mu.edu

Despite the fact that the scaffolding on the Church of the Gesu has mostly been taken down, the nearly 120-year-old church remains in the middle of a three-to-five year renovation project.

According to John O’Brien, the parish staff member in charge of coordinating the renovations, safety has been one of the driving factors behind the renovations.

“About two years ago we started to inspect the structure,” O’Brien said. “One of the things the inspectors looked at was imminent failure risk, and they saw some things that we needed to address right away.”

The imminent failure risk addresses safety problems in buildings that could cause immediate harm, such as falling concrete and terracotta or unstable roofs.

Last year, the “aisle roof,” or flat roof on the eastern side of the church, was renovated, and the path between Johnston Hall and Gesu was closed.

Work was recently wrapped up on the western steeple, where terracotta was fixed, stone was re-finished and the cross on the steeple was replaced. The clock on the western steeple is still being renovated.

All told, almost $1.5 million has been spent on renovations thus far, and the total cost of the project is estimated between $5 million and $7 million. The renovations should last the church between 20 and 80 years, O’Brien said.

The money has been pulled from Gesu’s financial reserves, and a capital campaign is in the planning stages to help pay for the structure’s upkeep and continued renovation.

In the next year, the front of the church, the east steeple and the nave level (the side of the church) are all in the plans for restoration.

“You may see scaffolding around Gesu in the next few years,” O’Brien said.

Besides the outside of the church, parts of the church’s inside also need to be renovated.

Though church attendance has not suffered during the outdoor renovations, O’Brien said he believes it may be a challenge to keep church attendance up during indoor renovations.

Mass is celebrated four times a day on weekdays and five times on Sundays. If indoor construction threatens the safety of parishioners, Mass would be celebrated in the lower church, O’Brien said.

Despite the costs and inconvenience, O’Brien said the renovations are vital to the life of the church.

“This work is absolutely fundamental to Gesu parish life,” he said. “Particularly at Gesu, we need to maintain the spirituality of the space, which is precious and transcends people. It’s one of the reasons people come here. I never go into the church and not feel the presence of God.”