BY MARY STONE AND PEGGY MITCHELL
St. Rose has a new look — and it’s not pink. In the wake of major structural improvements over the last 4 years, parish volunteers and the Wrangell community have recently completed the touch-ups on a fresh new color palette for the interior of the historic St. Rose of Lima church in Wrangell.
St. Rose of Lima was established on May 4, 1879, making it the first Catholic parish in the state. The two buildings that make up the church were built in the first quarter of the 20th century.
The interior painting project started over a year ago when Fr. Thomas Weise was pastor. Following his assignment to St. Rose parish in September of 2010, Fr. Weise oversaw major restorations and upgrades to the church’s foundation, exterior and insulation, funded in part by grants and gifts by the Rasmuson Foundation, the Frank and Nancy Murkowski Family trust, the Carl Guggenbickler family and the parish community.
Following restorations, the parish had talked about repainting the light pink that was everywhere inside the church. An interior designer in Wrangell was asked for ideas and she and Anne Morrison came up with a color scheme for the lower 10 feet of the church — off-white, green and a gold color that matched the Stations of the Cross; painting commenced. (Fr. Thomas Weise died suddenly in December of 2015, at age 46, of natural causes. Fr. Steve Gallagher was assigned as pastor of St. Rose’s and St. Catherine’s parishes in early 2016.) The following spring, the parish tried several colors on the upper walls until some were found that the whole congregation liked.
In mid-summer of 2016, with help from parishioners and community members in Wrangell, the project was renewed. Scaffolding was borrowed and delivered by local contractors, set up, and taken down at the project’s end. Peggy Wilson, former state representative, and many others joined in finishing the upper walls and ceiling.
“The pressure was on to get the ceiling done and the church cleaned up before Sunday Mass,” recalls Peggy Mitchell. “The ceiling is about 20 feet tall in places and having several different ceiling heights made the project much more complicated; we had to keep finding different sized ladders. The community was so wonderful to loan us and deliver to us exactly what we needed.”
“On that Saturday morning the contractors showed up early to remove the scaffolding and many of the parish ladies showed up to clean up the mess. When Fr. Steve Gallagher returned on Sunday from Petersburg, he was completely flabbergasted that we had finished and put everything back in order.”
But they were not done yet. Local artists thought a highlight of gold gilding would enhance the look. Young parishioner Nicholas Cole was looking for a project that would fulfill a high school requirement, and he agreed to paint the high-lighting. He worked on it in November and December and the final result, by all reports, is astoundingly beautiful.
The St. Rose parish also began a fundraising project to replace the approximately 30-year old red carpet. And, thanks to a generous donation from former governor Frank Murkowski and his wife Nancy along with other donations, they now have the funds to install new carpeting.
Other projects that have helped the church’s interior are the replacing of the old, worn red curtain with a new gold one made by Anne Morrison with fabric donated by Chris Ellis. Chris also made new altar cloths that matched with the new paint scheme.
Frank and Nancy Murkowski are having a plaque created for the church in
honor of Fr. Thomas Weise for all the work he did to insulate, re-side, and remodel
the narthex and confessional of the historic St. Rose of Lima, Wrangell, church.
“These projects were amazing in the way they have brought the community together. People of all sorts stopped by the church daily to see what progress was being made.”