Holy Cross Catholic Church Finds Way Back After Renovation

When a floor-buckling termite infestation threatened Holy Cross Catholic Church’s sanctuary, forcing the congregation to clear out for a full year, it was church members who carefully removed the more than century-old pews, ensuring they were stowed away for future reuse.

“Great care was taken to protect the inside of the sanctuary,” said Kevin Chamberlin, chairman of Holy Cross’ building committee. “I don’t think the people of the church would have wanted us to change it.”

Today, after a $1 million renovation that required gutting the sanctuary’s eroded flooring, the dark walnut pews are back in their rightful place, parked under the tall stained glass windows that are original to the circa-1879 church.

Visitors would never know that just last year the room was crawling with contractors and termite specialists.

“They’ve done an amazing job,” said Sally Schneider, director of the Lynchburg Historical Foundation. “It was daunting what they had to do, but they did a beautiful job and they did it historically correct, which says a lot about the congregation.”

“They did it with such care,” Schneider said. “They saved bricks and flooring and the pews. And I think that’s important, because I know a lot of people think it costs more to refurbish and restore, so they want to tear old things out and put new in. But really, when the numbers come down, it’s not a big difference. So when we already have all the materials there and can salvage them or reuse them, it’s the best thing to do.”

This month, as it kicks off its 40th anniversary, the historical foundation honored Holy Cross and others who’ve cared enough to pour some TLC into historic city properties.

Holy Cross was recognized with a Preservation Award during the historical foundation’s annual meeting on Jan. 12. Other honorees included Tony West, for his restoration of a downtown warehouse on Washington Street, and Cham Light, who was named Preservationist of the Year for his long-time service with many historical organizations.

The historical foundation said the awards recognize those who’ve made outstanding contributions to preserving Lynchburg’s past and the structures that are critical to its character.

“We need to continue to recognize those both within and outside of our historic districts for setting the example for their neighbors and for becoming an active participant in the preservation of our city,” said Joe Seiffert, a foundation board member. “Each project represents another small step in preserving our past for future generations.”

Holy Cross, which replaced its termite-gnawed floor, recycling salvageable pieces of wood where possible, returned to its church in April 2011 after a year spent worshipping in school gyms or church common rooms.

During the first Sunday back, a church member gave a speech in the guise of one of Holy Cross’ founding members and thanked the congregation for its commitment to preserving the church.

“This was a major, major project,” said Father Kenneth Rush. “Without the generosity and support of the people of parish, we wouldn’t have been able to do it.”

The church said it was honored by the foundation’s award and grateful for the recognition of the painstaking renovation.

“I would say it’s icing on the cake,” said Chamberlin, noting they’re “tickled pink” to be done with the project and back in the church.

Chamberlin, who’s been a member of Holy Cross said the 1970s, said when he first saw the historic church on Clay Street, he “had the feeling of coming home.”

“That’s what it is,” he said. “It’s our home.”

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