TUSCOLA — When Father Angel Sierra was named pastor of Forty Martyrs in 2015, he came on board during a landmark year — the 150-year anniversary of the Tuscola parish. Because he was aware of the timing, Father Sierra wondered how the parishioners would like to celebrate. It wasn’t long before he discovered that the people hoped to refurbish the church, which was built in 1925 and had last been refurbished in 1978.
“Little by little, people approached me to see if we could do something with the church,” says Father Sierra, who met with the parish pastoral and finance councils to get their approvals. “I did an inquiry of the sentiments of the people and they had a desire to do it. I told them we could look into it, but there was a process to go through and it might be a year or two before we could start.”
As it turns out Father Sierra, who is also pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Arcola, was already well-versed in refurbishing churches. “This is the sixth church where I’ve overseen this kind of process,” he says. “There was New Berlin (St. Mary), Franklin (Sacred Heart), Alexander (Visitation of the Virgin Mary), Waverly (St. Sebastian) and Villa Grove (Sacred Heart) — and now this church.”
Father Sierra went through all the “proper channels” — getting the approval of Bishop Thomas John Paprocki and working with Greg Fleck, director of Property, Building and Cemeteries for the Springfield diocese. And, of course, as pastor, he kept the parishioners both informed and involved.
“With something like this, everybody has to be involved,” he says. “I wanted the involvement of the people and I wanted to maintain the integrity of the architecture from its original conception. What we did was ‘polish it up.’ The sanctuary is the same.”
To help raise the funds required for the refurbishment, parishioners were asked to make and fulfill pledges and those who were interested purchased one of the 36 church pews that had been in the church. Work began on the church about a week after Easter of this year and Father Sierra celebrated Masses in the parish school building in May, June and July.
The parish contracted with Max Autenrieb Church Interior Decorating, Inc., of Edwardsville. “I had worked with them before and knew they would be good,” Father Sierra says, adding that he worked through the refurbishment process with the help of eight parishioners — four men and four women.
The interior of the church was repainted in colors suggested by Kevin Autenrieb. The carpeting — and the glue — that had been covering the original terrazzo flooring was removed. Finally, the new 12-foot pews were installed, along with handicap accessible pews. A Divine Mercy Shrine was added to the church, as was a new icon to the Holy Spirit. A few other changes were made as well.
Over the last weekend of July, parishioners had their wish come true as they took part in the first Masses celebrated in the newly-refurbished church.
With the Forty Martyrs Church now complete, Father Sierra says the process went well. “It is beautiful and the people are pleased,” he says. “That’s the important thing.”