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Tom Quest discusses aspects of the altar he handcrafted for Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart in Omaha, including the symbol at the top of the altar of the Society of the Sacred Heart.

Duchesne Academy receives gift of new altar

Retiring building and grounds director leaves a lasting, faith-filled legacy

Tom Quest retired in May as director of building and grounds from Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart in Omaha.

But he’s not going far.

"He may think he’s leaving, but he lives across the street and we all know where to find him," said Principal Laura Hickman, joking. "He is certainly an outstanding director of building and grounds. He’s been very creative in terms of coming up with solutions. He also has been incredibly generous in sharing his artistic talents with the community."

Tied to those artistic talents is Quest’s parting gift to Duchesne, where he served for 12 years: He built a new altar for the chapel. His handcrafted, oak altar was dedicated and blessed by Archbishop George J. Lucas in a May 24 Mass.

A member of St. Cecilia Parish in Omaha, Quest first worked with wood in high school and eventually worked under a master carpenter. Each project had its own unique set of complications, he said.

But this time, something was different.

While it was his first altar, it also was the first time in his woodworking career he never had a problem. Perhaps it was divine intervention, Quest said.

"I had to have had help because nothing went wrong," he said. "Everything went together."

He worked on the altar in 45-minute stretches, here-and-there over the past two years, secluded in the abandoned top floor of the school, an old radio his only companion.

He designed the altar to reflect the unique culture of Duchesne as an institution with a rich history that continues to move forward. The parquet pattern on the altar’s base is almost identical to the chapel’s parquet flooring. He stained the oak to match the color of the chapel’s pews and side partitions.

The top of the altar features a walnut inlay, depicting the contemporary symbol of the Society of the Sacred Heart. Also a ceramist, Quest created a ceramic front in the traditional symbol of the Society of the Sacred Heart, including the sun, the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, all encircled by a laurel wreath.

Those symbols are well known in the Quest household. Quest’s wife, Judy, and one of his daughters, Laura, are Duchesne graduates. And Judy was a guidance counselor at Duchesne for 23 years.

When his daughter was attending Duchesne, Quest said, he fully realized the impact the school has on young women’s lives. That realization became a key element of his parting gift.

"One of the important aspects of being a student at Duchesne is the spiritual life," he said. "I wanted to have something to contribute to their spiritual experience while they’re in the chapel."

Quest said he hopes his gift will make an impression on the students of Duchesne for decades to come.

"I always wanted to do something," he said, "because my experience here has just been wonderful."

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