By Stan Gould, Editor
WISCONSIN RAPIDS – It was a race against the clock. Frantic work and preparation late into the night paid off as the newly renovated church at Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in Wisconsin Rapids was largely completed – enough to allow Bishop William P. Callahan to rededicate the church and install its new pastor, Father James Altman.
After declaring that he was aware of the pastoral needs of the parish, and expressing confidence in the abilities of Father Altman, Bishop Callahan declared, “I now present Father Altman to you as your new pastor,” that was followed by a rousing round of applause from the full house at Ss. Peter and Paul.
In referencing the Gospel for Sunday, Dec 19, Bishop Callahan explained how Joseph learned that Mary was “with child” by a message from an angel in a dream. Joseph took his wife into his home, raised and protected his family. Bishop Callahan explained how appropriate it is today, that Father Altman was installed as pastor, for a pastor has to be a “shepherd of souls, he has a responsibility of being your shepherd, of being the leader of this unique community … to be your spiritual father.”
During an interview with The Catholic Times, Father Altman said since this is his first pastorate; it is “all the more special.” “The people here are so devoted, so prayerful, so devotional, so supportive of Holy Mother Church, so supportive of their bishop … I couldn’t have asked to come to a better parish.” Originally from the Diocese of Marquette, Father Altman was an attorney who had a family practice in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., when he answered the call to the priesthood. Graduating from the University of St. Mary of the Lake’s Mundelein Seminary outside Chicago, Father Altman was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Jerome E. Listecki at the Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman on June 28, 2008.
Following ordination, his first assignment was as chaplain and teacher at Assumption High School and associate pastor at Our Lady Queen of Heaven, both in Wisconsin Rapids. He moved to Ss. Peter and Paul, Wisconsin Rapids, on March 1, 2009. One year later he was appointed the parish’s administrator and installed as pastor by Bishop Callahan on Dec. 19, 2010.
That the installation took place in a beautifully renovated church was not a given. “Honest to God, at 4:25 p.m. yesterday, we were still trying to clean up,” Father Altman said. “These pews back here still had yellow tape all around them; they didn’t have time to get them done because the [floor] tiles did not get done in time, and columns came Thursday and they were supposed to be here a week and a half ago, and the tile cutters were cutting tiles until yesterday.” A mere 24 hours earlier, Father Altman said that it seemed impossible to get the renovation completed for the installation ceremony. “And all of a sudden, it just came together,” he said.
The “coming together” was due to the hard work of a lot of people. “On Thursday, Dec. 9, the general contractor fully recognized the extent of the delay and brought in two extra crews to lay the tile in the sanctuary and the two sacristies.” Father Altman said. “He brought in some extra crews and they worked until way past midnight.” The last-minute difficulties were many, according to Father Altman:
– The last tiles in the nave and sanctuary flooring were laid late Friday night. They ran out of tile to complete the sides of the sanctuary, though these imperfections were obscured by Christmas decorations.
– The large Crucifix above the altar presented great difficulty and was not hung until around 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon.
– A quarter of the pews in back had to be roped off with caution tape because they could not be installed in time for Mass at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 18. The pew company came back around 6 p.m. to finish the back quarter of the pews. – The contractor’s “stuff” was packed into the back confessionals and hidden behind the curtains.
– The pew company also refinished the doors but, hanging them it was discovered that the height of the tile prevented movement of the doors so they had to be braced open as there was no time to fi x this problem.
Father Altman credited Jeff Ashbeck, president of the parish council, on the success of the renovation that started Oct. 23. “He has kept the project going and kept me in line.” Ashbeck explained that “the reason for the renovation was the age of the parish, as the church was built in 1952. Other than a few paint jobs and altar renovations, the church was essentially unchanged and had aged considerably. More than once Father Altman and others mentioned the old battleship gray paint that adorned the walls and columns for 58 years.”
Parishioner Thomas Siegler said the church “is so much brighter, is just nicer, the old [church] was getting pretty well worn and needed to be remodeled. They did a wonderful job. Sieger also said that, during the remodeling, the Masses were said in the school gym. Father Altman said that moving from the gym back to the church “was a special day for the parish to be back in their church for the first time. It is not pleasant to be displaced from one’s sanctuary and the people were thrilled to be home again.”
There are still a few renovation items to be completed. One of the two sacristies needs to be completed and there is work to be done in the back wall of the sanctuary. Father Altman said that “the statues of St. John and St. Mary are going to be at the foot of the cross, which is going to be higher, we will have some massive columns and arches, its going to be like 3D – incredible niches up there with those statues – just wait until you see what this is going to look like in the end.”
Father Altman wishes to recognize some of the many people who were instrumental in the renovation, starting with the Parish Council stating that he “had 10 three to four hour meetings over three months, beginning July 10. Additionally, they had countless smaller group meetings to decide particular issues. It was a privilege to work with these dedicated and self-sacrificing individuals.
“There was a crew of individual volunteers who transformed a gym, unused after a decade, into a beautiful temporary sanctuary. This included our council president, Jeff Ashbeck, Pat Ryan, the Borre brothers, council member Tom Brehmer and a number of others.
“There was a crew who transformed the old school into habitability, led by our DRE and council member Julie Pisula. “Phil Kosloski, our pastoral assistant, took full responsibility for the smooth running of our sacred liturgies. Transferring the entire liturgy to the renovated school gym was quite a project and even a tiny office was transformed into a fully functioning sacristy.
“The PCCW, with a little help from some husbands, painted the entire Church basement in two days in preparation for the arrival of our bishop.
“All this would have been for naught but for the inestimable, 24/7 attention to duty of the one person, our Buildings/Grounds supervisor, Jim Dietsch. Mr. Dietsch’s expertise and incalculable self-sacrifice made it possible for me to continue functioning as a priest throughout the whole process. I honestly can say that his contribution to this project saved us months of displacement for there is no way on God’s green Earth that I could have overseen all the radical repairs necessary, on a day to day basis, as he did.”
It became quite obvious that the parish has accepted their priest and now pastor. Thomas Siegler said, “I like him; he’s a real nice guy. I think an awful lot of him.” Father Altman said that the Communion line was the longest he ever had.