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The Most Reverend Donald Walter Trautman, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Erie, described the restoration work at St. Leo Magnus Roman Catholic Church along Depot Street in Ridgway as "exquisite" and "spectacular" after seeing the finished product.
"I thought our diocese only had one cathedral, but now I think we have two cathedrals, one here in Ridgway and one in Erie," Trautman said as he prepared for a 7 p.m. Mass Thursday night as part of a rededication ceremony. "I'm very proud of it and I commend all who are responsible for it, and I'm happy for the people in this parish.
"I think the church is very bright and it will certainly improve the worship of our people here, and I know the people are just as proud as I am."
Trautman was proud to know that much of the legwork involved in readying the church was done by local residents.
"I give praise to God for all the workmanship and I want to note that the craftsmanship has come from the local area, and it makes me proud to know that the talent is here," Trautman said. "We have a lot of people here like Saint Joseph, a lot of carpenters in this area and they should be justly proud of the end result.
"I happily rejoice and I shall call this 'my second cathedral.'"
The restoration work was first made possible by Denny and Rose Heindl, who contributed an estimated $1 million for the work.
"The donors are wonderful people, generous people, and God would not be outdone in generosity," Trautman said. "I bless them and thank them for sharing their goodness, their wealth for the Lord's church and for the community of faith and helping this parish renovate this church.
"It is a magnificent result and I praise and thank God for them and for their goodness, and I ask the Lord to bless them."
After months of work, Fr. Brian Vossler, pastor of St. Leo Magnus Roman Catholic Church, was excited to finally unveil the church to parishioners.
"We're here now to certainly enjoy the celebration that we very much deserve," Vossler said. "It's a celebration certainly for our people, that's certainly a big emphasis because we are the church.
"We have a beautiful worship space now, but I hope that the worship space reflects the beauty of the church, the people of God."
As the parishioners prepared last night to worship in the restored church, Vossler described the event as a new beginning for the followers.
"It's just the next step for us to involve ourselves in the ministry that we're called to and as a pastor, I hope to lead our people in that direction," Vossler said. "We can be proud of where we are and who we are."
While the church was closed to allow for a vigorous renovation schedule, parishioners were diverted to the auditorium at the Ridgway Area High/Middle School.
"It was a smooth transition for us [to go to the local high school] and I think there was an initial hesitation by many since they didn't know what to expect," Vossler said. "We were going from a religious place to a secular institution, but as it turned out, the parking, being handicap accessible, the lighting, the wonderful comfortable pews, the sound system and the 800 seats worked for us.
"We had three meetings before we moved into that space and it really did go off without a hitch, and I think people are really grateful for the school officials for allowing us to do that."
Looking back, the pastor doesn't think there was much of an inconvenience, as the parishioners were more than understanding
"But I think our parishioners are ready now," Vossler said. "They've followed the restoration work on the website and heard rumors about how beautiful the church is, and I think they're very eager to get back and celebrate in their regular worship space."
Vossler described the finished product as one that "has exceeded expectations," as many of the ideas were taken from a painting in the parish office illustrating the original church back in 1941.
"You'll see the blue dome highlighted by the angels and the 14-point star that marks the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem," Vossler said. "It has the six-foot squares on the ceiling-- we opted for the 12-foot squares with the inner six-foot squares highlighted by a medallion.
"We also had the backdrop and we put in a white marble altar of repose, and the woodwork is certainly a tribute to the Hyde-Murphy era."
While trying to respect a lot of the original character of the church, Vossler said many of the church's older parishioners will certainly enjoy the beauty of the end result as it reflects back to that era.
"We didn't just want to stay there [in that era], we wanted to bring the church into the modern era and we've done that with our screen projections where we can put the words of the songs and music; we also have a streaming of the Mass online and I think we're the only one in the diocese to do that-- you could see Mass on a computer anywhere in the world," Vossler said. "We have a high infrared security system as well.
"The lighting system is all computerized and the sound system is complete with Bose speakers, and we have the beautiful sign that complements the parking lot and gives us the electronic capacity to put up any message that we would like. These are just few of the many features that certainly highlight the church as we see it today."
Vossler was nearly at a loss for words about the many donors who made the project a reality.