Monday, June 28, 2010

St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, Center, NE

The early German Catholics of the Butler County area were served by the Franciscans of Columbus, Nebraska intermittently from about 1877 to 1883. Construction of a permanent church in Center, Nebraska (rural David City) began in the summer of 1879 and St. Francis was chosen as the parish patron. As the parish grew, plans were made for larger, brick church which was dedicated in 1900. Only five years later, a fire of unknown origin destroyed this church on April 16, 1905. The present church, designed by H.W. Brinkman of Emporia, Kansas was dedicated in 1916. It's worth noting that this church bears much resemblance to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Colon, Nebraska. Colon was dedicated in 1919 and is much larger, but given the many similarities in design, it's likely the same architect was utilized.

The interior of this Romanesque Revival church has undergone many renovations throughout its 94-year history. The photo above was taken in approximately 1931 and depicts the interior as it likely appeared near the time of its dedication in 1916. All of the furnishings are in place, but no decorative painting yet.

Around 2004, plans were drawn up to renovate the interior of the church in order to recapture many of the architectural and artistic features that had faded or disappeared over time. A sketch of the proposed interior....

... and as it was actually executed. A new mural of the Ascension was commissioned for the apse to replace a fading 1952 mural of Christ the Priest.

The sanctuary as it appeared cira-1940. Note especially the stunning painting in the apse. Painted in the Beuronese style, the mural is replete with imagery; angels hold symbols of six Sacraments, with Christ himself as the seventh Sacrament of the Eucharist. There are also images of the Trinity, the Vine and Branches, and the feeding of the sheep. This mural was covered in 1952 with an image of Christ the Priest.

By contrast, the sanctuary as it currently appears.


The nave in approximately 1965. Much of the interior decoration in this photo can be traced to the renovation of 1952. Note the mural of Christ the Priest as well as the simplified paint scheme.

Again, contrasted with the present interior.

The interior underwent further renovations in approximately 1978 and again in the mid-1990s. The ornate altars have been removed and the paint scheme further simplified. Depicted above is the interior in 2000.

The interior finally reached its present state in about 2004. This renovation effectively renewed the color and design of the space, while completely respecting its architectural integrity.

The barrel vaulted ceiling is a distinctive design element of St. Francis.

Christ sacrificed, ascended, and dwelling among us.

A side devotional area featuring statues of Our Lady of Grace, the church's patron St. Francis of Assisi, and the Baptismal Font.

The stations of the cross harmonize well with the church's architectural elements. Note especially the detail of the pilaster featuring the head of a cherub.

An original confessional graces the rear of the church, near the entry. The all-seeing eye of God watches over the main doors.

Two different stained glass window designs are found within the nave. The parish's patron, St. Francis is a full figural representation...

...while his sister, St. Claire is depicted in a portrait-like fashion.

The windows in the fa├žade date from 1944 and replaced clear glass windows.
Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, "All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me." At this, Jesus said to him, "Get away, Satan! It is written: 'The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.'" (Matthew 4:8-10)
Behind the church lies the parish's neatly-kept cemetery.

A small, peaceful shrine to Mary occupies a corner of the cemetery grounds.

The names of many early German settlers can be found on the older headstones. This particular one reads:
We cannot tell who next may fall
Beneath thy chastening rod,
One must be first but let us all
Prepare to meet our God
St. Francis of Assisi church and rectory as viewed from the back corner of the cemetery.

The parish hall, which also serves as the township hall, was constructed in 1930. Several scenes from the 1992 made-for-TV movie "O Pioneers!" were filmed at this hall.

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