A church in a picturesque corner of Franklin County is getting a makeover.
A $185,000 project is replacing the mortar between all the bricks in the facade at St. Joseph Catholic Church of Neier, which was built in 1868.
“There’s something like 64,000 bricks,” said Father Thomas J. Wissler, pastor of the church, located nine miles southwest of Union. “From what I understand, they take a half inch of mortar out of the joint. They replace it with a new type of mortar that repels weather a little better.”
The original mortar was likely made from material found in nearby rivers.
Workers also are replacing all the bricks that are cracked or broken in the walls, which total 9,000 square feet.
About a quarter of the church’s masonry had previously been worked on but not properly removed before new mortar was installed over it, according to a news release. The facade’s remaining original mortar was cracking, which allowed moisture into the walls.
The facade of the church also was stained with biological growth.
The project started in mid-March and is expected to conclude by the end of June. Workers from Western Specialty Contractors, St. Louis, were working on the church’s 90-foot bell tower on this day in early June.
St. Joseph serves about 300 families, which is small for a Catholic church, Wissler said. The project was large for such a small congregation.
The archdiocese has a general rule that a project should not cost more than 3 percent of a parish’s annual auditory income. Wissler said the project at St. Joseph-Neier was 98 percent of its income.
The parish was able to do the project because it had saved money for years, he said.
“It was quite an achievement to get it done,” Wissler said. “We didn’t have to take out any money on loan from the archdiocese. It’s quite an achievement for a parish this size to pull off without borrowing money.
The church’s members are largely in agriculture in an area that doesn’t see much growth, Wissler said.
Western has completed millions of dollars of work in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, but rarely on a church with this few members, Wissler said.
“The guys have really been good to work with,” he said.
They even agreed to move their crane out of the way to allow for better pictures at a wedding.
“They did a really good job of getting the front of the church cleaned up, so it would look nice for them,” Wissler said.
All the projects Western works on are significant, said project foreman Jerry Gault.
“If you ask any of these guys on the wall, they’ll tell you that we’re artists,” Gault said as one of his company’s cherry pickers worked on the steeple. “We’ll come back and look at the walls years from now.”
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the church was closed to the public between mid-March and May 18, which was good timing.
“They have the OSHA rules and everything,” Wissler said. “We couldn’t go in the front door for two months.”
Things are running more smoothly now, with daily mass running from 6:30-7 a.m., before construction starts at 7.
The project also includes restoring areas around windows and doors and applying water repellent material.
The church was previously renovated in 1961 and 1998. At least with the bricks, it should be good for a while.
“It’s nice knowing that nobody on this planet in this lifetime will have to worry about doing that again,” Wissler said.