The Catholic Commentator  

A pew and flooring restoration project at Ascension of Our Lord Church in Donaldsonville unearthed the reverence and care that the founders of the church took in building the facility, said Doug Schexnadyer, project coordinator.  

The current project stems back to 2013, when the interior of Ascension of Our Lord was painted, with the cost “well into the six figures” because of the preparation work that had to be done, crews working several weeks and using a hydraulic lift to get to the ceiling of the church, according to Schexnayder.  

“We noticed that as they moved the pews, the pews broke,” said Schexnayder.  

The joints of the pews had cracked because of the fluctuation of heat and cold in the church through the years.

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 Paul Allen, owner of Paul Allen Flooring, does some final sanding work on the floor Ascension of Our Lord Church in Donaldsonville before stain coats and polyurethane were applied. Photos by Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentator 

 

“We had volunteers working three days a week just repairing pews,” said Schexnayder. “The pews were literally splitting. The volunteers would lay down on the floor and put a piece of plywood under the seat and put screws into the bottom.”  

But even the best “patch jobs” couldn’t keep the pews from needing to be replaced.  

“Some of the cracking on the seat was so intense that people were actually getting pinched. So we installed cushions to prevent the pinching,” said Schexnayder.  

The maintenance committee of Ascension of Our Lord and its cluster parish, St. Francis of Assisi in Smoke Bend, was assigned to the project, and a subcommittee was formed to look into the project. 

In getting prices, the committee discovered that it would cost $30,000 more to restore the pews than to buy new solid oak ones.  

Noting that Ascension of Our Lord and St. Francis have a “pay as you go” philosophy concerning projects, Schexnayder said, “At that time (2014) we did not have the cash in the bank to afford the pews, so we decided to hold off on the project until we could pay for the project without getting a loan.  

“Volunteers continued to patch pews until we had money for new pews,” said Schexnayder.  

Through the leadership of Ascension of Our Lord and St. Francis of Assisi pastor Father Paul Yi and the “overwhelming generosity” of the congregations and communities, the church was able to proceed with the project, said Schexnayder.  

When Father Yi announced in July at the weekend Masses that the church would be closed until the completion of the project, and asked for volunteers to help empty the church so restoration could begin, the response was overwhelming.  

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 Aaron Hargrave uses a hand sander as part of the restoration project of the Ascension Catholic Church’s floor.  

 

A combination of the contractor and a large crowd of volunteers removed the articles from the pews, all church furniture, all statues, and all pews in three days, said Schexnayder.  

“The parking lot was literally full with trucks with trailers hauling pews.”  

The old pews were installed in 1965 after the church received substantial damage from Hurricane Betsy.  

“They have served the church well,” said Schexnayder.  

Those who had donated to the new pews were offered one of the old pews for their homes. Because the pews were 18 feet-long, making them too long for the inside of many homes, the place they need to be to prevent further deterioration, local carpenters and “handy people” cut the pews to a smaller size.  

With the pews removed, the project leaders decided it would be a good time to replace the wiring of the sound system and improve the lighting fixtures, which all now have LED bulbs.  

As with any large project, there were obstacles to overcome. 

“The challenge, when working with an old building like this one, which opened for service in 1896 and took 21 years to construct, is to stay focused and stay on budget because everywhere you look there’s something to do,” said Schexnayder.  

Volunteer Raymond Templet said one big challenge is moving the church’s grand piano.  

“That’s the biggest thing to move in the project. It took six of us. It’s heavy and it’s a really old and delicate piano,” Templet said.  

He said Dr. Earl Schexnayder had donated the piano, which Liberache had played and has his signature on it. The instrument will be cleaned and tuned after the project is complete.  

Templet said he, Doug and his cousin, Steve Schexnayder, as well as other volunteers are happy to work in the church because they are “project people.”  

“You always need a good project. You have to have a reason everyday to get up and do something,” said Templet.  

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 Work was done on the main altar of Ascension Catholic Church before it was carpeted during the historic church’s renovations. 

 

Hard work can uncover some real treasures, those working on the project discovered. When they took up the floor tiling beneath the pews, for example, they found that the original wood floor of the church was in excellent condition.  

“The contractor that’s refinishing the floors told us that in all of his years in doing this type of work, he had never seen a floor of this high of quality and there are literally no knots in the boards throughout the entire church. We only can assume that the founders of this church hand selected every board in 1896,” said Schexnayder.  

This has inspired those involved with the project to proceed with the same attention to detail and care of the church’s founders.  

“It’s not a church that you would want to modify,” Schexnayder said. “There’s too much history here.  

“The congregation of this church loves this church and the history of it.  

“There are literally second, third and fourth generations attending Mass here,” he added. 

In addition to the tiling being removed from the floors, the carpet was removed from the sanctuary and side altar areas.  

Once the floors were sanded, a stain finish and polyurethane were put down, which as of deadline, was in the process of curing. The church is out of service at this time.  

The pews were scheduled to arrive from New Holland Church Furniture in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11 and should take about two weeks to install.  

After the floors are complete, new carpet will be put in the sanctuary area, and the church will be cleaned. The newly renovated church should be open Sept. 30.  

Father Yi said the renovation project has been a good way for the church to celebrate its past while looking to the future.  

“The impressive church that the faithful of Donaldsonville built reflects their great passion and love for Our Lord Jesus Christ,” said Father Yi. “Since its inception this beautiful church served as an instrument of evangelization. Parishioners and visitors over the years have marveled at the sheer size, symmetry and art of this worship space.  

“Even non-Catholics visiting this church connect in mystical ways to the beauty and the dignity of their soul created by God himself. We hope that in coming years, this worship space will continue to help people encounter Christ who is present.”   

A fundraiser is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 28 at the Ascension Catholic High School gym. All proceeds will go toward this project, said Schexnayder. 

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Gage Roy said the sander he used required many changes in sanding belts during the Ascension Catholic pew and flooring project.