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Latrobe church makeover promises visual delight

| Sunday, June 18, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Kyle Hodges | Tribune-Review
Holy Family Church in Latrobe on Thursday, June 15, 2017.
Kyle Hodges | Tribune-Review
The Rev. Dan Mahoney poses in front of the newly renovated altar at Holy Family Church in Latrobe on June 15, 2017.
Kyle Hodges | Tribune-Review
Father Dan Mahoney poses behind the newly renovated altar at Holy Family Church in Latrobe on June 15, 2017.
Kyle Hodges | Tribune-Review
Holy Family Church in Latrobe on Thursday, June 15, 2017.
Kyle Hodges | Tribune-Review
Worker renovate the altar at Holy Family Church in Latrobe on Thursday, June 15, 2017.
Kyle Hodges | Tribune-Review
Holy Family Church in Latrobe on Thursday, June 15, 2017.
Kyle Hodges | Tribune-Review
Holy Family Church in Latrobe on Thursday, June 15, 2017.

Latrobe's Holy Family Church is entering the next phase of its long history with a return to the visual splendor that embraced parishioners when the Catholic house of worship was built along Ligonier Street 110 years ago.

Beginning with the altar and the proscenium arch that frames it and extending over the ceiling and along the side walls, the church has come alive with color and detail. Freshly painted images of saints and angels will gaze down upon the congregation as Bishop Edward C. Malesic of the Greensburg Diocese visits to take part in a dedication service at 2 p.m. Sunday.

The Rev. Dan Mahoney, the church's pastor, said a renovation in 1967 introduced a simpler, modernist interior look. "Everything was white," he said, and an earlier marble altar was replaced with a plainer granite one.

The roughly $2.5 million project is meant to re-establish the church's original look, with sculpted marble and painted details, though there has not been an attempt to exactly replicate past features.

Evergreen Architectural Arts of Brooklyn, N.Y., a company that has completed work for landmark buildings in the nation's capital, designed the figures that have been painted on the church walls as well as an addition to the high altar that will be used for celebrating Latin Mass.

The addition is meant to complement and extend the ornate look of the 1878 spired marble altar that originally graced Baltimore's St. Pious the Fifth Church, now closed.

"We purchased it from a dealer eight years ago and stored it in the (Christ the Divine Teacher) school all these years," Mahoney said. It was stored in pieces and has been reassembled, providing a focal point at the front of the church.

A smaller altar, originating in Manhattan, also has been installed at Holy Family, providing an opportunity to reintegrate a marble depiction of the Last Supper that had been a fixture in the past altar.

Mahoney credited parishioner Don Winklosky for salvaging the marble image during a past renovation.

"He built a case for it and kept it in his barn," Mahoney said. "It weighs two to three tons. It came back to us with a forklift on a truck.

"We're very happy to have that piece of our heritage preserved. It's been an exciting time," he said.

A new top has been fashioned for the altar and will be blessed by Malesic at the dedication.

Planning for the renovations began a decade ago. "It was obvious the church needed some real work," Mahoney said. "It hadn't had any real work done in many years."

Work began in earnest last fall.

Owner Kenny Plouff of J.C. Stone Expert in Houston, Texas, has had crews of up to 15 workers at a time installing marble structures at Holy Family, including the two new altars and a large presider's chair. His team also has laid new flooring, combining variously colored tiles from Spain, Italy, Tennessee and Vermont, while working to minimize cracks in the existing marble floor of the vestibule.

"It's a privilege to work on a church like this," he said.

Among 10 relatively modern saints depicted amid arches on the church's side walls is Elizabeth Ann Seton, remembered with the naming of Greensburg's Seton Hill University.

"They reflect the life and faith of the Catholic people during that time," Mahoney said of the saints.

Other improvements benefiting the congregation of about 3,500 have included installing a handicapped-accessible confessional and energy-efficient LED lighting.

"It's a magnificent building, but the lighting was abysmal. It was dark and dreary," Mahoney said.

The pews, which were removed while work was completed on the flooring, will be reinstalled with wider spacing. That will eliminate a few rows but still will provide seating for about 650.

For the dedication service, overflow seating and a video monitor will be set up on the church's lower floor.

"We'll make CDs for those unable to attend," Mahoney said,

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6622, or via Twitter @jhimler_news.

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