More than 100 years of history, community and faith have been witnessed inside the walls of the historic St. Francis Catholic Church in downtown Bend. But piece by piece, the focal points of the revered structure are getting taken apart.
St. Francis is in the middle of a massive, multi-million-dollar restoration project.
The church first opened its doors in 1920, just 16 years after Bend incorporated in 1904. It’s a part of the city’s beginnings, standing still in the heart of downtown on the corner of NW Franklin Avenue and NW Lava Road.
“The first thing we’re doing is removing the stained-glass window,” Michael Rigali, vice president of Daprato Rigali Studio, explained.
The lead lining of the windows that flank the walls of the historic structure are in end-of-life condition, according to Rigali. He says the risk with doing nothing to the failing lead is that “the cement falls out and then they can crumble.”
Rigali came all the way from Chicago to work on the project and his involvement is all thanks to a tiny inscription discovered on the side of the sanctuary discovered by the church a few years back. On that inscription is the date “1916” and the words “Daprato Statuary Co., Chicago – New York.”
It was Daprato Rigali who originally helped build the church’s sanctuary, statues and install the stained glass, 10 decades ago.
“They built the interior of the church. They built the sanctuary,” Father Jose Mudakodiyil, the pastor of St. Francis, said.
Daprato Rigali was founded in 1860.
“The Daprato brothers brought my great grandfather over from Italy,” Rigali explained. He was known as the best artist, so they brought him over to Chicago to start making statues.”
Rigali’s great grandfather was tasked with making statues for families.
“He would go house to house sell, like say you’d want to buy one for your husband, and he would make a mold and then make a statue of his bust.”
The issue was that the mold he created could produce about a half dozen statues. Families only wanted one.
“So, he decided, let’s start doing Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” Rigali said, “That’s how it started to become a religious company.”
A smart business move, no doubt.
When the St. Francis community realized Daprato Rigali was still operating and they were on board with helping with the restoration, the church leaders pitched projects to the parish.
“This building is important not only to the Catholic community, the church is important to the Bend community as well,” Fr. Jose explained.
The community voted in favor of restoration work that would ultimately cost $2.1 million.
“People that support this, they are making huge sacrifices,” said Fr. Jose.
The church is also a part of the National Registry of Historic Places, meaning the work had to be done with approval from the City of Bend. However, the money to fund the project, is coming solely from the congregation. The parishioners have raised $1.7 million so far.
“We want to make sure that the church is here for another hundred years or more, as long as God wants,” Fr. Jose said. “Our goal for the end of the year is that we can get to $2 million.”
All the polishing and painting is for a much greater purpose than just aesthetics.
“Renovation of the church is not just about brick and mortar or carpet and wood, but instead it’s also about the spiritual renewal of the community,” Fr. Jose said. “Without that spiritual renewal just material renewal doesn’t make full sense.”
The construction may keep the church standing, but it’s the celebration of life’s most sacred milestones, like first communions, confirmations and marriages, that keep the faith alive.
The stained glass has been taken to Chicago for proper repairs. Rigali says they’ll likely make the trip back to Bend with the fresh glass art in October.
Meanwhile, members of Rigali’s team continue other restoration work on site at St. Francis, including working on the marble statues and painting the ceiling.
There is still work to be done with the HVAC, so Fr. Jose says the community will likely be welcomed back into the sacred space in the spring.