Saturday, July 25, 2015


Okay, I have a disclaimer. I have been a part of three renovations of churches in my 35 years as a priest. The first one was when I was a very progressive young priest. It can rightly be called a "reckovation." It occurred in 1980. I wasn't the pastor, but I supported vociferously the reckovation of a 1950's style church building. Rambusch of New York was the consultant and they are perhaps the kingpins of reckovations of churches in the 1970's!

About 15 years ago another pastor did a sort of restoration and expansion of the same church. The original reckovation was quite costly and very divisive at the time and took a great deal of energy to ramrod through. A lot of hurt and alienated feelings occurred.

On top of that, the original reckovation had the new altar more centrally situated with seating on three sides and was only two steps up from the nave and could not be seen by people when they were standing! YIKES!

My next renovation occurred some years after I became pastor of the Church of the Most Holy Trinity in Augusta. It was in disrepair and crumbling. It really wasn't a renovation but a restoration and the people supported it wholeheartedly and from the entire city. Other parish parishioners were very supportive morally and financially! The final product, although somewhat expensive was a vast improvement and secured the future of the parish church building that was begun in 1857 and completed in 1863.  I don't think there were any hurt feelings or alienation over this one.

My next renovation/restoration was already in progress when I got to my current pastorate in Macon. I had to reorient some of what was going on as we had a unique opportunity with the church already scaffold for restoration of windows, plaster and painting to make sure it was properly renovated for the liturgy in both forms.

The liturgical consultant procured prior to my arrival helped us to restored the church to the proper colors and artwork. Not all were pleased with everything and prior to my arrival there was a group of parishioners trying to prevent certain things.

The biggest controversy that I created was the removal of the altar railing. I should state however, I worked through three parish groups to make the changes in the renovation plans and with unanimous approval of all three groups. These are and in order of approval, the restoration committee, the pastoral council and the finance council, which eventually led to the bishop's endorsement.
The final product as you have seen in pictures was stunning. The only fly in the ointment was the removal of the altar railing which was recently restored. The final product now, at the head of this blog speaks for itself I think. There is great love and appreciation for what has been done to the Church over the last 12 years not only by parishioners but the entire Macon community and the world I might add!

But why would a bishop or priest do something to a church or cathedral that isn't needed? I think in particular of the cathedral in Milwaukee which can truly be called a reckovation. It's nice and things are clean, but it isn't what was intended for this style of architecture.

The other is what is happening in New York City's Church of Our Savior. The New Liturgical Movement has an article on the controversy. You can read the article by pressing these two sentences.

But the current pastor seems to be creating unnecessary consternation by the undoing of a restoration that occurred only 12 years ago. There is no reason whatsoever to waste perfectly good artwork by removing it and then saying he's trying to restore the Church to the original vision. So we have a waste of expensive artwork and then the expense of taking it down and putting something else up.

When priests and parishes become interior decorators constantly changing this, that and the other and simply for aesthetics, Houston (or Rome) we have a problem.

The article I link above has the two pictures I post below:

This is the original look of the Church as restored 12 years ago:
This is what can rightly be called "iconoclasm" that is currently taking place and won't be complete until the image of Christ the Pantocrator Icon is removed, the center Icon of Christ the Judge:

 How much did the original icons cost not only to commission and have made, but to install?

How much does the iconoclasm cost and the eventual new art work that will replace it? 

Is this really necessary or does the pastor simply like being an interior decorator? I ask; you answer.


The Greek said...

Iconoclasm = heresy.

These heretics are no better than the Turks when they plastered over the mosaics of churches in Anatolia and Greece.

GenXBen said...

Would you have approved of the changes in your 1980s incarnation? What justification would you have given for it?

Rood Screen said...

Father McDonald,

Did priests of that era think they were obliged to do what they did, or was there an attitude of revolution driving the excessive changes? I wish there could be a comprehensive scholarly study of what happened. A team of psychologists, sociologists and others should interview the remaining leaders who did those puzzling things. There's no need to cast judgement on the main actors, but we do need to learn lessons for the future.

Square, Uncool Catholic said...

This is one of the most divisive issues facing the Church --obviously. I have witnessed many beautiful parish churches that have been "renovated" to become "up to date" with the "liturgical requirements of Vatican II". In case anyone forgets Vatican II was that "strictly pastoral" council that issued no anathemas, and treated the Church with the "medicine of mercy" while remaining silent about the Church's greatest threat, Communism thanks to the Metz Accord.

There's nothing "pastoral" about the way these things are handled. Many times the local diocese will use Alinsky-inspired tactics to push their renovation through, including "consensus-building" meetings where groupthink and pressure lead parishioners to think that a majority of them really want a predetermined outcome. Probably every reader of this blog can cite at least one beautiful parish church they have seen ruined by this "updating" process. Invariably, when it's finished, the pastor will have all the bluehairs in the congregations saying, "My, isn't it beautiful?" as the rest of the befuddled people sadly look at the empty shell that used to be their beautiful church.

OF COURSE this is unnecessary. The real question is, WHY do so many parishes and dioceses continue to go down this expensive, divisive and destructive path? Studies have shown that parishes that wreckovate tend to lose money. So if mammon doesn't inspire the stripping, wrecking and modernizing, what does? I would suggest that something that doesn't come from God.

rcg said...

Are priests merely lease holders? Are hey curators and custodians? It seems like they are sometimes young lions trying to exterminate the scent of their predecessor, yet led meekly by the ladies of the parish council.

Anonymous said...

I will say that the photos of your church display an amazing restoration. The results are stunning. I have seen over the years a number of reckovations. While some have been done to older style churches, such as that one in NYC, a couple have also been done to the modernist 50's style church architecture. In my opinion they both are reckovations, and some of those modernist churches should have been valued as much as the older styles. For that NYC Church of Our Savior; if it is a renovation, restoration, or reckovation the priest should have made known his plans and what the final results were to look like. I am sure if an architectural firm was involved, an artist could have sketched a rendition of the intended final results. The priest also could have given the reason for the renovations, be they aesthetics or structural. That might have guaranteed a more professional result, and better relationships with the parishoners.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

To BF: I was 26 at the time and drank so much of the liturgical Koolaide of the time. I also thought new always was improved. I have to find and print an article I wrote for our diocesan newspaper explaining the renovation. It makes me squirm today, but alas I believed it at the time.

John Nolan said...

All the restorations/wreckovations of the 60s and 70s were justified because they 'reflected the liturgical changes of Vatican II' and to a large extent they did. The new liturgy required a new setting.

Birmingham Oratory (Cardinal Newman's church) was scheduled in the 1970s for wreckovation by a prominent parishioner and architect (now lapsed) aided and abetted by one of the clergy (now laicized). It narrowly escaped.

To argue that Vatican II did not actually mandate these developments is to miss the point. They were in full swing when the Council was still in session.

I have tried to reconcile V2 with authentic liturgy and doctrine for the past 50 yeas. I have now given up; while I don't disagree with everything it said I think that at some time in the future, when the Church of Christ is a beleaguered minority, it will be seen to be the pseudo-Council it was. And we can have proper ecumenism between East and West.

Anonymous said...

What was so worth saving at St. Teresa, Albany, before the renovation?

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Quite frankly, it was somewhat ugly. The first thing that destroyed the integrity of the 1950's sanctuary was when the tabernacle was literally stuck on a side altar. There were two side altars, one for the Blessed Mother and the other for St.Joseph. The sanctuary was spacious with a simple wooden altar railing.

In the 1970's the old main altar with the six candlesticks and tabernacle was removed. An ironing board altar using some of the old high altar, meaning two marble pedestals and a marble mensa was placed at edge of the third step leading up to the old altar and then the celebrant's chair was placed directly behind it. Horrible! The celebrant's chair was dead center and the highest in the church.

If I had done the renovation with my today sensibilities, I wouldn't have changed the sanctuary at all except to restore the look of the orignial high altar, but freestanding and replace the tabernacle behind it with six candlesticks on either side.

Anonymous said...

"Literally" stuck, as with some kind of glue or paste?

rcg said...

Our priest this morning had a comment similar to John's concerning the anachronistic nature of Vatican II. These changes were in response to questions that are no longer asked and the answers to the questions people have returned to asking are forgotten.