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 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinOctober 5, 2007 Issue 

Howard dedicates new church

New eco-friendly building replaces 92-year-old church

By Nancy Barthel
Compass Correspondent

HOWARD -- Designing the new St. John the Baptist Church was more than another job for architect Dan Roarty.

Not only was it special because he's a parish member, but the experience helped him rediscover a friendship. Roarty and childhood friend Curt Moore, co-chair of the parish building committee, had lost touch. Both had moved to Howard from Green Bay at different points in their lives. Now, together, the reunited friends and the entire parish have built a church.

"I won't be doing very well during the dedication," said a misty-eyed Roarty, speaking about the dedication of the new church by Bishop Robert Morneau at noon on Sunday, Oct. 7.

Building of the new church was a collegial effort by the entire parish. Key facilitators included Brian Maloney who served as co-chair of the building committee with Moore, and Joan Brusky and Gary Van Helvoirt, co-chairpersons of the fund-raising committee.

Father John Bergstadt, pastor, arrived to his assignment in July 2005 as discussions were in place to build the new church. He said that, for five years, the parish worked towards its new church.

There is a distinct similarity to the two churches now standing on the parish grounds.

The current 92-year-old stone St. John the Baptist Church was built at a time when Howard was rural: a historic aerial photo at the parish office shows how the church was surrounded by farmlands. The parish is now 154 years old, making it one of the oldest in northern Wisconsin

And this new church, too, is a product of its times. Today's Howard still celebrates its rural roots, but finds itself one of the fastest growing areas in the state.

Once situated in that quiet spot, the old church is now located on one of the busiest and noisiest corners in Howard. The new St. John the Baptist Church is situated so that its main entrance faces a serene wooded area and a manmade pond created as a result of the project for watershed purposes. It is already popular with wildlife - including deer, said Father Bergstadt.

The church itself, according to Roarty, is a modern interpretation of a Gothic church. The old church is known for its beautiful stonework, and that was carried over into the new design, he said. The church windows were designed so that the stained glass from the old church can be put into the new church next spring, after the building settles.

The new church has a comfortably open feel, and this was accomplished Roarty said because of modern technology. Only four columns hold up the 108-foot beams that traverse the center of the church, meaning that views to the altar are not impeded. The 1,000-person seating area is also in a radial - or curved - pattern. The design of the seating was an important decision for the parish, said Roarty, and in the end the parish decided that this design provided "a greater sense of community." He emphasized that the church does have a traditional center aisle for processions.

Behind the altar is a concealed ramp that allows anyone with a disability to fully participate in the Mass experience, said Father Bergstadt. Inclusiveness was always a consideration as design was discussed, he emphasized.

The baptismal font at the back of the church was designed with the parish's patron in mind and is reminiscent of the River Jordan, said Father Bergstadt.

Building "green" is a hot topic today and it was so at St. John the Baptist as they discussed how to build the new church in an environmentally responsible and efficient manner. The church itself was designed so that a large amount of daylight comes into the building, said Roarty. "I foresee many times we won't need a light," said Father Bergstadt, "other than an accent light."

Roarty also said he's happy with the decision the parish made to install an energy efficient heating and ventilation system that first tempers outside air before it's used inside the building.

For Father Bergstadt, he knows people will be impressed when the walk through the doors Sunday. Their first experience will be of the gathering space that he says was specifically designed with varying ceiling heights so that multiple events can go on at the same time. The altar from the old church will be placed at one end of the gathering space and the plan is that daily Masses, small weddings and funerals can be held here. A portion of the old church's stained glass will serve as a backdrop to the altar.

At the other end of the gathering space a gas fireplace serves as a backdrop. In this area, Father Bergstadt anticipates parishioners will gather for the tradition of coffee and rolls after Sunday Mass or for retreat and learning experiences. There is also a conference room, featuring the fireplace, which will be used for any number of activities, as well as a "Sunday office" in the church. A bride's room and family room are at the back of the church.

The school - with its 305 students in grades kindergarten through grade eight and 129 pre-schoolers - is attached by a walkway to the church.

One of the big moments during the building of the church occurred June 30 and July 1 of this year, when parishioners were invited to come and sign the floor over which the altar would be placed. It was a very personal experience for people, said Father Bergstadt, as they signed their names, wrote prayers, inscribed scripture passages. It was part of the personal journey for people as they bridged the old with the new, allowing them "to say truly this is my church," said Father Bergstadt.

Father Bergstadt credits Deacon Nick Williams for efficiently saving the parish a considerable amount of money by bringing to the project the expertise he had garnered in his professional life overseeing construction projects in his role as overseer of air traffic control towers.

And the project itself first got its wings, he said, under his predecessors, Father Bill Swichtenberg and the late Father Greg Smith. Father Swichtenberg will lead a Living Rosary in the old church at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4.

"I'm now looking forward to what kind of community we hope to develop," said Father Bergstadt.

Marge Schiffer, pastoral associate, said she has plenty of new members registering every week, excited about the opportunities to worship at the new St. John the Baptist Church.

Even those among the oldest members of the parish are excited about the new church and what it means to the growing parish community. Ted Thyrion, 97, along with his late wife, Margaret, were members for decades and, following his retirement from Fort Howard, Ted served as ground and maintenance foreman and assistant janitor from 1976 to 1986.

"In my lifetime I met some of the nicest people," he said "... and a lot of them were at St. John's."

Though he anticipates vision problems will keep him from the dedication, he's happy about the new church. "It's time," he said.

And that's just how Mary Orsi feels. "I'm 97 years old, I'll be 98 in December," said Orsi, who is regularly at church on Sunday and will be one of those taking up the gifts at the dedication. She and Father Bergstadt kidded about the building of the church the day the formal groundbreaking ceremony took place. "I hoped I lived long enough to see it completed," she chided, adding, "I'm sure that everyone who will see it will really be impressed and we really needed the space. It's really growing up here in Howard."

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