‘Beacon of light and hope’
St. Patrick restoration concludes with spire, steeple, cross set back in place
October 19, 2023
JANESVILLE — One of the city’s oldest landmarks was restored to the Janesville skyline Thursday.
The spire and steeple were returned to St. Patrick Catholic Church, 315 Cherry St., in Janesville, two years after they were removed due to safety concerns.
A capital campaign was started shortly after their removal to restore the entire historic church building.
Early Thursday morning, a construction crew rigged up the restored steeple and spire as neighbors and parishioners watched.
Around 9 a.m., the steeple was lifted onto a crane and placed on top of the church to be bolted in. Around 11 a.m., the spire went up and at noon the final piece of the puzzle, the cross, was placed on the very top of the spire to be anchored in by a cable and a bolt.
The return of the cross once again put the building, from top to bottom, at 122 feet-6-inches tall.
Matt Dabson, an estimator with Corporate Contractors Inc., said that last week a crew lowered a new, welded reinforced steel cage at the base of the steeple.
In 2021, St. Patrick Catholic Parish decided to remove the 30-foot-tall steeple that had tilted four degrees to the east after 157 years of towering over the front entrance.
In 2021, the parish was at a crossroads with the steeple and other structural deficiencies, former pastor Rev. Drew Olson said.
Its financial council pondered either taking down parts of the 1864 building or rehabbing them.
“We just reached a point where there were literally pieces of wood falling down … on the sidewalks,” Olson recalls. “The tower was leaning precariously, and you know, the bricks (were) coming loose in the wall.”
Dabson said the new spire and steeple are made of steel and aluminum, the steeple now a patina green color meant to mimic the color of oxidized copper. The spire and steeple were built in Kentucky and driven to Janesville to be put together.
The full price tag for the church restoration is now a little over $2.5 million. It has included ceiling and trim painting, exterior brickwork and foundation fixes, installation of a handicap ramp that is now almost finished, new bathrooms, a new entryway, new floors, and refinished pews.
Dabson, a contractor who works out of Beloit but was born and raised in Janesville, this was an important project for him to be involved in. He said he used to attend St. Patrick.
“There is so much history here,” he said. “To be a part of making it happen means a lot to me.”
He called the spire “a beacon of light and hope for people in the neighborhood. It shows that the church and community is here to stay.”
Margaret Delaney said she was present Thursday to take photos to send to a friend in Las Vegas who used to go to school at St. Patrick. She sent photos every step of the way.
As she witnessed the culmination of the work started two years ago, Delaney said she was amazed at how the steeple and spire went back up. She said it also made her think about what it must have been like 159 years ago to build them.
Jeff Knopes and Gaylen Reilly were part of a group of parishioners who helped get the ball rolling on the restoration.
They both were part of what they call “the grunts” who met weekly, choosing contractors and also pitching in and doing a lot of the work themselves.
Knopes noted that all of the original wood and nails were saved to make other things such as clocks and benches.
Reilly said it is nice to have a piece of history come back to Janesville and to the church.
Olson, now a parochial administrator for Good Shepherd Parish in Madison, told The Gazette on Thursday he is happy to see the project come to completion. He said it feels fitting that after he left, the team and the community finished it.
He said he also feels it makes sense that the steeple that started the restoration was the piece that ended it.
He also called the steeple a beacon of hope in the community. He said he hopes that the restoration of the church will help the city grow and develop into the best it can be.
“Steeples and spires are meant to point to heaven,” he said. “The lights on the spire will act as a sign of hope in downtown Janesville and for the community in the fourth ward.”
Fr. Olson will be in Janesville to bless the restored church at 4:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 20.