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A brighter space for worship

By Jaclyn Twidwell
For The Catholic Voice

Several priests join Archbishop Curtiss for the April 5 dedicaton Mass, including Msgr. Eugene Kerwin, the parish's founding pastor. "I think the Lord kept him around just for tonight," Archbishop Curtiss said during the homily. Photos by Jaclyn Twidwell

As the 200-pound corpus statue is lowered from a crane, a construction worker guides it into place on top of the church.
The renovated St. Robert Bellarmine Church includes not only a new altar, but also a new organ, new stained-glass windows and new Stations of the Cross. The Blessed Sacrament chapel is now located behind the altar.

     It's the same building, but a new look and a new altar at St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Omaha.

     Archbishop Elden Francis Curtiss joined the parishioners of St. Robert Bellarmine in Omaha April 5 at a Mass to bless the altar of the renovated church.

     'I know that this new altar will be the place where the path of mystic Christ will continue to be celebrated in our midst," Archbishop Curtiss said as he blessed the black marble altar with chrism oils.

     A relic of St. Robert also was placed under the altar during the ceremony.

     The original tabernacle was saved, restored and is now at rest in its new home, a wall of stained glass behind the altar. 'With the original tabernacle in its newly created environment, I think you have made this an exciting place of  worship and for prayer," said Archbishop Curtiss.

     Before the Mass, more than 800 parishioners gathered in the school gym, turned transitional church, for the closing of 40 hours of devotion and the procession to the church led by Archbishop Curtiss.

     Father Donald W. Shane, pastor of St. Robert Bellarmine, and 15 other archdiocesan priests, including Msgr. Eugene Kerwin, founding pastor of the parish, concelebrated.     'He is aging quite well," Archbishop Curtiss said of Msgr. Kerwin. 'I think the Lord kept him around just for tonight."

     Upon entering the refurbished church, parishioners were met with the sounds of a new organ and the beauty of the new stained glass, Stations of the Cross and sculptures.

     The interior changes include all new color, lighting, flooring, sound system, furniture, altar and the addition of an adoration chapel. The capacity of the church is now at 810 for the 2,500 families in the parish.

     'It is certainly a lot brighter than I remembered it being," said Archbishop Curtiss during his homily.

     The archbishop wasn't the only person pleased with the changes. Parishioners also liked the new look of their worship space.

     'The openness of the layout will bring this community closer," said parishioner Cathy Leininger.

     'It truly feels like a place of worship, not only for parishioners but also for God," said member Jackie Miller.

     The beauty of the interior is mirrored outside with renovations as well. It features all new landscaping, bells and a new corpus statue for the cross on the top of the church.

     The 300-pound corpus was guided 66 feet into the air by a crane April 4. After holes were drilled through the corpus' hands and feet, screws were used to affix it to the cross on top of the church.

     Father Shane has been the pastor of St. Robert Bellarmine since 1998 and has a long history with the parish, going back to his ordination held Sept. 13, 1969, in the school gym, which was the worship space for the new parish.

     The parish was founded in June 1966 and services were held in nearby Crestridge School until the gym was built in 1968. Eleven years later, a move was made to the church complex.

     In May 2000, the first phase of the renovation project began and space was added for a reception center, parish offices and school area.

     'It has been a long wait," said Leininger. 'I was very anxious to see what it was going to look like and I am very pleased with the end result."

     The final phase of the project began April 18, 2005, with Stan J. How as the architect and the Weitz Company as general contractor.

     'This is a tremendous parish with tremendous parishioners," said Archbishop Curtiss. 'I expect great things to happen at St. Robert Bellarmine Parish."

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