After seven months of renovations, St. Ann Church and Shrine in Metairie will be rededicated by Archbishop Gregory Aymond on July 30 at a 10 a.m. Mass.
“Parishioners are very excited to get back to the church,” Father Michael Schneller, pastor, said. “We’ve been worshipping in the gym. They have been very patient.”
The $920,000 renovation to the church, built in 1976-77 five years after the parish was founded, began in January.
Project architect Kevin Morris of Holly & Smith Architects said the church was gutted inside and freshly painted with new pews, a new sound system, heating and air conditioning system, new interior lighting, new carpeting and simulated marble added around the sanctuary. The sacristy was renovated as well as the shrine to St. Ann with additional lighting.
Glass that once divided the sanctuary from the St. Ann Shrine was removed.
“It’s something we are proud of creating, a better visibility of the shrine area and its integration as part of the worship space,” Father Schneller said, adding that the shrine has allowed the church to be open every day for individuals to pray and leave petitions.
“People have missed the ability to be able to do that (during the renovations),” he said.
To improve its visibility, the baptismal font was relocated from in front of the quieting room to the southwest corner of the sanctuary.
The choir also was relocated to a choir section behind the altar that will accommodate a new piano, new organ and choir of approximately 30 people.
The exterior was cleaned, roof maintenance repairs were made, and there is upgraded drainage and new lighting.
What will be noticed immediately about the renovation before even walking inside the church: the addition of vestibules at the three main entrances. Morris said the vestibules will create an air lock to create a better, air-conditioned space, allowing a transitional zone from outside to inside. The storefront exterior windows and their framing system were replaced and upgraded to hurricane-resistant glass that is clear, not tinted like the original windows, allowing more natural light in the sanctuary.
Even with all the changes, Father Schneller said seating capacity would remain the same at 780.
Long time coming
Father Schneller said discussions about the renovations first began when Msgr. Joseph Bourgeois was pastor from 1996-2001. A formal parish assembly about these plans was scheduled Aug. 28, 2005, the day before Hurricane Katrina struck.
Father Schneller said Katrina changed the scope of the project after the parish began looking at not only the function of the church but all its facilities, including parish-owned properties and the need for a younger preschool program.
In 2006, the Institute for School and Parish Development conducted a parish feasibility study for a parish capital campaign, interviewing parishioners and taking surveys at weekend Masses.
Father Schneller said the capital campaign exceeded its goal, with more than 800 people contributing in some way. He commented how gratified he was with this result, considering that the parish had lost several hundred families due to Hurricane Katrina. One parishioner donated $70,000 toward a new $83,000 organ that was needed.
The appreciation for parishioner support is humbling, Father Schneller said.
“We’re acknowledging everyone (with a donor recognition wall in the church), whether their donation was financial, prayers or involvement,” he said.
Enhancing the liturgy
Father Schneller said the upgrades to the church would enrich the worship experience, making it easier for some with the addition of space for wheelchairs next to some pews and a handicapped-accessible restroom.
“It’s going to enhance the comfort level for sure,” he said about the new, wooden pews and air conditioning system that will better distribute the air throughout the church.
To use pledge money as efficiently as possible, the decision was made to build a 2-year-old Tot building at the same time as the church renovation, using the same architectural firm and contractor, Voelkel-McWilliams. The self-contained 2-year-old program will accommodate approximately 45 students and open in August.
Father Schneller said the investment in the redevelopment of the parish would position it well into the future. The only aspect of the original plan that wasn’t completed is a new sacristy, due to the cost of several hundred thousand dollars extra, though the former sacristy was renovated.
“But, the renovations have been done in such a way that there wouldn’t be too many changes (if we build it later),” Father Schneller said.
Morris attended elementary school at St. Ann and met his wife Kerri in second grade there. His mom, Joy Morris, taught at the preschool for 20 years. The home-grown architect said he is delighted with how the project turned out and that it finished within budget.
“I’m very pleased with it,” Morris said. “The contractor has minimized the disruption to the project. … We have received a tremendous amount of positive feedback.”
Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion herald.org.