CHAMPAIGN — A renovation project has begun on St. Matthew Catholic Church, shifting masses to temporary quarters in the parish center's Feeney Hall until next spring.
Daily masses were called off for a few days this past week while the move to Feeney Hall was in progress, and resumed Friday in the new temporary location — which the church's pastor, the Rev. Robert Rayson, said has been arranged with all seats angled toward the sanctuary.
"There really isn't a bad seat in the house," he said.
St. Matthew raised $2.5 million in a capital campaign that includes about $1.6 million for work on the church at 1303 Lincolnshire Drive, $400,000 for some updates in St. Matthew School and the rest for future expenses, Rayson said.
Driving the church remodeling was a 2010 directive by Bishop Daniel Jenky of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria that tabernacles be moved to the centers of churches.
A tabernacle is a structure that houses the Eucharist, which Catholics believe is the real presence of Jesus Christ. Rayson said the bishop wants Catholics to focus on Christ at the center of their hearts and homes, and Christ "should be at the center of our churches."
St. Matthew's remodeling project builds on that belief by also slightly elevating the space to help people have a fuller appreciation of the liturgy and make the church more conducive to prayer and worship, Rayson said.
"This is to help our people have a greater sense of the sacred and truly be heightened in their religious experience in the worship of God," he said of the project.
This is the first substantial construction work being done on the church since it was completed and dedicated in 1978, and includes also refurbishing the pews, adding new stations of the cross, renovating confessionals, adding new flooring, and new, translucent stained-glass windows in the choir loft. Work in the school includes renovating restrooms and adding new heating units, Rayson said.
All masses and other church activities will be held on schedule throughout the renovation months, with construction projected to be done by next February or March, Rayson said. The move back into the church won't take place until it is consecrated by the bishop, he added.
St. Matthew, a parish of 1,750 families, will mark its 50th anniversary next year. It was formed as an offshoot of Holy Cross Catholic Church in 1965 and held Mass in the school gym before the church was built.