The History of St. Cecilia Catholic Church in Hastings, Nebraska, taken from the 2010 Parish Directory (Pages 1-9)
"Back in 1912 when this church was built," the Right Reverend Monsignor Grogan said, "bricklayers made 35 cents an hour and this building cost $62,000." [from a Hastings Tribune article of 1964]
The story of the building of St. Cecilia Catholic Church is a drama of faith, human ingenuity and love. We gaze upon the 95 foot north tower of this building and wonder how it was built, without modern cranes or lifts to mechanically raise the materials and men needed for this feat. We study the rivets used to join the steel structure, and remind ourselves that these would have been fired red-hot in blast furnaces, located on the ground or on a raised platform, and then physically hurled into the air to a workman fifty feet above. We are proud that Hastings' C.W. Way was our architect, Raphael the inspiration for one of our windows, and that our organ, called a Hutchings' Opus 228 was built by the most famous organ builder in American history. We recall the retirement of the debt, which included a Sunday Mass in the summer of 1919, when the doors of the church were locked before the dismissal, and Steve Seigle and a group of parishioners, frustrated from paying interest on the remaining $19,000 owed for the building, fervently appealed to the parishioners for help and distributed blank checks to those in attendance. "In less than an hour the total debt was paid off." [From Hastings St. Cecilia Centennial Book, page 14].
The centennial celebration for the dedication of St. Cecilia Catholic Church is a time to remember, relive, and rekindle the faith of our fathers who built this dwelling to the honor and glory of God and as a home of faith for their children and their progeny. Father William McDonald was the pastor of the parish who oversaw this building project. In the address he gave on December 21, 1912 following the dedication of the church, he stated, "Dear friends, let me present to you this morning this temple dedicated to the service of God. Allow me to present it to you in the name of the Divine Redeemer, as a Christmas gift, and may you live for many years to enjoy it."
Recognized as "one of the most popular clergymen of his denomination in this part of the state and in this city" [Hastings Tribune, June 16, 1909], Father William H. McDonald enjoys the abiding esteem of the parishioners of St. Cecilia Catholic Church for inspiring and overseeing the building of "one of the finest church edifices in Nebraska" [Hastings Tribune, Dec. 22, 1912]. The church was designed by Hastings architect C.W. Way and built by the construction firm of Hempel and Kealy of Hastings. The church occupies a space of 148 feet by 74 feet, with the roof apex at 65 feet, and a ceiling apex of 42 feet. The north bell tower reaches a height of 95 feet and the south tower 75 feet. The nave of the church is 95 feet in length and 58 feet in width. Designed without columns, this architectural novelty is achieved by using steel pillars along the length of the building on both sides, linked by steel trusses, forming a steel skeleton of the church. A one inch thick steel beam spans the 74 foot expanse of the transept. The laying of the cornerstone was on November 22, 1911. with Bishop J. Henry Tihen, presiding.
Curved beams are attached to the trusses, and provide the structure from which the ceiling of the church is suspended. The ceiling is ribbed and over the side aisles are groin ribs, forming a continuous row of Gothic arches running parallel to the nave.
The steel beams of the church were fastened using one inch thick steel rivets, fired red hot in furnaces at ground level or on elevated platforms and heaved 40 to 90 feet into the air, to be snatched by metal workers, placed with tongs into holes drilled into the steel, and beaten with hammers until secure.
There are no welds in the steel structure, and only a few bolts. The steel for the structure was fabricated by Hastings Foundry and Iron Works. The facing of the church was done in brown Persian tapestry brick, the first of this kind fired and used in buildings in the Hastings area. The roof is of red tile, and all door, window and tower traceries are of American art stone.
Building the Church
The St. Joseph statue was one of several statues Father McCabe collected and installed in the church in the late 1980's. Originally, the statue included the infant Jesus, but this was removed and the statue modified during the renovation project in 1996 so that the St. Joseph statue could be placed alongside the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary which depicts her carrying the infant Jesus. The Blessed Virgin Mary statue is pictured in the earliest existing photographs of St. Cecilia church. Following the renovation of the church in 1964, the statue was removed from the church and came into the possession of Mrs. Rosemarie Harsh. In 1986, Father McCabe asked Mrs. Harsh for the statue and she gratefully returned it to the parish. The altar, tabernacle stand and pedestals for the adoring angels are made of travertine marble. The altar was installed in the 1964 renovation and the tabernacle was placed in the center of the sanctuary in the 1996 renovation. The adoring angels that flank the tabernacle came from Assumption Church in Deweese, Nebraska and were installed in the sanctuary following the 1996 renovation of the church. The colors of the angels' garments, selected by Jeanne Petr, memorialize the children of the parish who died by miscarriage or stillbirth.
The church bell was donated by Miss Maggie Tritz on December 18, 1897 and solemnly blessed on January 28, 1898. Sometime after the mid 1920's the bell was installed in the north tower of the church. The reproduction of the famous painting, Way to Emmaus, by Robert Zünd (1827-1909) was commissioned by Father Larry Gyhra to decorate the atrium in the newly remodeled Centennial Hall (2008). Parishioner and local artist John Beyke painted the oil based mural and gifted the work to the parish in memory of his wife Rose Beyke (2007+) and in honor of Father Larry Gyhra, pastor of St. Cecilia Catholic Church (1999-2008).
Traditionally, the Way of the Cross devotion included fourteen crosses accompanied by statues or paintings depicting the fourteen meditations of the devotion. Early pictures of the church interior show a matching cross at each station and the Hastings Tribune reported (December 27, 1912) that the plaster statues beneath each cross were imported from Italy, and were "most artistically developed and colored, being duplicates of statuary in famous cathedrals." In the 1964 renovation, the crosses were removed from all stations except the twelfth station painted white to harmonize with the interior color of the church. In the 1996 renovation, the statues were repainted in a stone white color with dark gray highlights which give the statues a stone-like appearance.
The beautifully gold plated monstrance was gifted to the pastor of St. Cecilia Parish, Reverend William McDonald in January 1912, by Mr. and Mrs. Anderson Keller. The base of the monstrance has six enamel reliefs, depicting St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, St. John, St. Joseph and St. John the Baptist. The figures of St. Paul, St. Peter, the Crucifixion, and Christ the Good Shepherd decorate the niches in the altarpiece like structure surrounding the centerpiece of the monstrance that holds the Blessed Sacrament.
The sanctuary lamp came from St. Patrick's Parish in Kingman, Kansas and was donated to the parish in 1987 by Wilfred Miller of Superior, Nebraska.
The organ of St. Cecilia (Hutchings' Opus 228) was built by George S. Hutchings of Boston, Massachusetts around 1890 for First United Methodist Church of Omaha, Nebraska. Hutchings, one of the foremost organ builders in American history, designed and built numerous large and important organs for churches and universities throughout the United States. In March, 1991, the organ was purchased by St. Cecilia Church and following restoration, was installed in the church and first used on Palm Sunday, March 31, 1996. The organ has 29 ranks and 1,616 pipes, and is one of only six organs built by Hutchings still in service today.
St. Cecilia & Stained Glass
In The Acts of St. Cecilia, it is recounted that pagan music filled the air during her undesired marriage ceremony to Valerian (circa 220 AD). However, throughout this ordeal, the virgin "Cecilia was singing in her heart a hymn of love for Jesus, her true spouse." Hans Memling, in 1470, painted St. Cecilia playing the organ at the mystical marriage of Catherine of Alexandria and this art work is reputed to be the inspiration for the choice of St. Cecilia as patron of church music and musicians. In 1584, Pope Sixtus V named St. Cecilia patron of the newly founded National Academy of Saint Cecilia in Rome, which exists today as one of the oldest musical institutions in the world. The church's stained glass window is a reproduction of Carlo Dolci's oil on canvas, entitled St. Cecilia at the Organ, painted in 1671 and presently on display at Gemäldegalerie in Dresden, Germany. The Carrara marble statue of St. Cecilia was given by the McCabe family of Lincoln, Nebraska in memory of Monsignor John McCabe, tenth pastor of St. Cecilia Catholic Church (1986-1999) and Superintendent of Hastings Catholic Schools (1985-1994). The McCabe family is a wholesaler and installer of marble and tile and purchased the statue from an elderly Italian sculptor whose shop is located near the marble quarries of Carrara, Italy. They presented the statue to the parish following the death of Monsignor McCabe on October 22, 1999.
The stained glass windows of the church were imported from Europe (perhaps Austria), and according to parish records of 1914, cost $3,350. The Knights of Columbus donated the large window in the north transept which depicts Jesus' ascension into heaven as seven apostles look on in wonder.
The large window in the south transept was donated by the Altar Society, and is a reproduction of Raphael's Sistene Madonna, painted for the Benedictine Monks of St. Sixtus Monastery in Piacenza, Italy, around 1514. This picture is presently on display at the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden, Germany and is considered the museum's most prized possession. Mary and the child Jesus rest upon the clouds of heaven. St. Sixtus, pope and martyr and St. Barbara, virgin and martyr appeal before the divine child for the needs of the world. The window of the south transept was blown in on September 16, 1944 by an explosion at the navy ammunition depot outside Hastings. It was replaced for approximately $500.