When Margaret Collins went to the Passion play at St. Mark's Catholic Church in Shakopee last week, she waited for her whole family to gather on the steps of the church so they could walk in together. It was a simple moment, but one they hadn't shared for nearly two years. Since May 2005, worshippers at St. Mark's have been exiled from their church, first by a renovation meant to mark the parish's 150th anniversary, then by a fire that tore through the sanctuary two weeks before work was to finish. Now, just in time for Easter, they're home.
In some ways, the month after the fire was nearly as hard. There was the question of insurance, and there was the blow of $4 million in repairs on top of the initial $1 million renovation. It took the state fire marshal a month to determine that the blaze had been caused by spontaneous combustion of rags left by workers who had been staining pews. In the interim, federal investigators swept in to rule out arson.
Church leaders had to find a temporary space big enough to house five services every weekend for 4,000-plus members. They turned to the Catholic Education Center, 3½ miles from St. Mark's on the other side of Hwy. 169, a traffic challenge and a symbolic dividing line between old and new Shakopee that Father Bill Stolzman worried would drive away longtime members.
In fact, the congregation grew during its sojourn. Volunteers came up with a plan to transform the cafeteria into a worship space, and weddings and funerals were held at nearby churches. The space has served well, but for many, fluorescent lights and metal chairs and a pop machine couldn't replace the ornate altars and statues and arches of their church, built in 1865. The room was crowded; the acoustics weren't great. They missed kneeling.
Ever since the first renovation began, the congregation has said a prayer for restoration, composed by Father Stolzman, at every mass. It closes like this:
"Send your spirit upon us that we may renew this church to your glory and the spiritual blessing of all who will come here to worship."
On Monday, at the opening mass, they said the prayer for the last time. Star Tribune