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Workers at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church install stained glass windows from now-closed St. Patrick Church, both in Omaha.

A mosaic of the Last Supper and two angel statues in the recently renovated St. Gerald Chapel in Ralston are from now-closed Blessed Sacrament Church in Omaha.

Artwork from closed churches finds new homes

Religious works of art from recently closed churches are finding new homes as parishes beautify their churches and chapels – and honor the hard work and faith of prior generations.

"I know people put their hearts and souls into making the worship place of their families very special," said Father Frank Baumert, pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Omaha, whose parish has 10 stained glass windows from St. Patrick Church in Omaha, which closed two years ago.

"It’s not something we can just toss away. It truly was made in love," Father Baumert said. "To preserve that and install it in newer churches ties the old and the new."

St. John the Evangelist Parish in Valley also has stained glass windows from St. Patrick Church. And while renovating its chapel, St. Gerald Parish in Ralston acquired from now-closed Blessed Sacrament Church in Omaha a mosaic of the Last Supper and two angel statues.

"I saw those angels and got hooked on those," said Father Owen Korte, pastor of St. Gerald when the chapel was renovated but since July 1 serving as pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Hartington. Continuing to use such artwork also helps honor people’s faith journeys and what they have meant to the church through the generations, Father Korte said.

Blessed Sacrament and St. Patrick churches closed in the summer of 2014 as part of the archdiocese’s Promise 2020 restructuring plan for east Omaha parishes and schools. Blessed Sacrament merged with St. Philip Neri Parish and St. Patrick with St. Frances Cabrini Parish.

Preserving religious art and other objects has been a priority in all of the mergers, and items are available with a financial gift to the merged parishes, said Deacon Steve Luna, archdiocesan director of pastoral planning.

While some religious art could be purchased by people outside the Catholic Church, sacred articles – such as vessels that have held the Eucharist – are destined only for Catholic churches, Deacon Luna said.

And placing religious art such as stained glass windows or statues in nearby Catholic churches can be helpful to people from parishes where churches have closed, because they know where the art is going and they can visit, continuing to enjoy it, Deacon Luna said.

Saving religious art is a long-held church tradition, one practiced by Fathers Baumert and Korte as they served parishes around the archdiocese. Father Baumert remembers helping parishioners from now-closed St. Richard Parish in Omaha transfer items to St. Charles Borromeo Parish near Gretna, and Father Korte recalls placing items from closed rural parishes into St. Patrick Church in Fremont as it was being built.

At St. Gerald Parish, the newly acquired artwork is part of the renovation of the chapel that was the original church and continues to be used by the parish school, for daily Masses and a 7 a.m. Sunday Mass.

The changes include new lighting, paint, carpeting and sound system. Donations and volunteer work helped make the changes possible, Father Korte said.

Parishioners are enjoying the chapel, as did students before the end of the school year, Father Korte said.

Many other people in parishes receiving the artwork also appreciate their religious significance and efforts to preserve the past, including David and Jean Wooten, parishioners of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

They helped that parish obtain and, since March, install three windows from St. Patrick Parish in the front entrance of the church: the Annunciation, Nativity and Resurrection. Jean grew up in St. Frances Cabrini Parish and she and her husband were married there 50 years ago.

"It’s a beautification of the church," David Wooten said. The windows also tell stories of the faith; "it’s all about what we believe," he said.

Windows from St. Patrick still to be installed include the Lord’s baptism, Mary and Joseph finding Jesus in the temple and St. Paul preaching at the temple in Athens. They are destined for several areas, including the reconciliation room and the parish hall’s education area, Father Baumert said.

As with the first three windows, families wishing to honor loved ones through memorial funds and other donations will help pay for acquiring, refurbishing and installing, Father Baumert said.

"A lot of people in the parish are from south Omaha," he said. "It’s been wonderful to get some of these windows into the church."

Churches change hands

Five Omaha churches have closed as part of the archdiocese’s Promise 2020 restructuring of parishes and schools in east Omaha. The archdiocese prepared all five churches for use other than as a Catholic church and sold them under certain restrictions, including not being used for gravely immoral purposes, such as pornography or as an abortion or contraception clinic:

Blessed Sacrament Church and School sold to Lozier Foundation for conversion into a private school and gym.

St. Therese of the Child Jesus Church sold to a Protestant denomination for use as a worship site.

St. Patrick Church sold to Omaha-based Foundations Development for an apartment complex.

St. Anthony Church sold to an Omaha-based investor group for possible lease or sale to a Christian denomination.

St. Rose of Lima Church sold to a business owner, plans not yet determined.

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