New beginning nears for Immaculate Conception Church

Pictured is one of six stained-glass windows designed by Emil Frei that were moved from the old church. Two more windows will be moved when the new school is added. (Corey Saathoff photos)

It won’t be long now. On Sunday, Jan. 27, parishioners of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church will travel up Father Carl Scherrer Drive on the north end of Columbia and celebrate the first Mass inside their spacious new place of worship.

The Republic-Times received a guided tour of the nearly complete new church by Immaculate Conception Church Building Committee Chairperson Andrea Biske and project manager John Whitworth of general contractor Korte & Luitjohan on Monday.

A project several years in the making — from the capital campaign to planning and construction — the nearly $9 million new Immaculate Conception Church incorporates modern U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops guidelines to create space that promotes “full, conscious and active participation of the faithful.”

Rather than long sections of pews from near the altar to the far back, as seen in the current church on Main Street (24 rows), seating inside the new church is limited to five sections of 12 rows that curve around the altar. This allows for all parishioners to sit closer to its pastor while at the same time being able to see more of the fellow parishioners sharing in the worship experience.

“It is a lot more open,” Whitworth said. “No columns.”

Whitworth said the ceiling measures 50 feet at its peak above the altar to the floor, with 120 feet of clearing space.

The new church also offers more than double the seating — 850 compared to current church capacity of 375.

In keeping with rich Catholic tradition, a large wooden cross helps form the new main entryway to the pews.

Work nears completion on the new Immaculate Conception Catholic Church on the north end of Columbia.(Corey Saathoff photo)
Work nears completion on the new Immaculate Conception Catholic Church on the north end of Columbia.

Other modern-day features incorporated into this church include an elevator from the main floor to the bottom level — which will eventually become a parish hall with other meeting rooms, a quilting area and the Father Steve Gira Memorial Library as more funds allow — handicap accessibility, LED lighting and an energy efficient, variable refrigerant heating- cooling system that offers more even temperatures throughout the building with less noise.

“We’ve tried to make this as accessible as we can,” Biske said.

There are two confessionals in the new church, and a separate prayer chapel on the side for Eucharistic adoration services.

Biske added that six of the stained-glass windows from the current church have been moved into the new building, with two more to be relocated once the school addition is built.

Pictured is of the cornerstone to be dedicated by Bishop Edward Braxton on Jan. 27.

The maker of these windows, Emil Frei Stained Glass, is also completing a new stained-glass creation to be placed at the entrance to the new church.

Biske said Father Scherrer has been very involved with the project, visiting often and helping in various ways.

“He’s up here constantly,” she said. “He’s always got a tape measure in hand.”

Plans are for Immaculate Conception School to remain at its current location until funding allows for the building of a new school adjoining the church, Biske said.

“The good thing is the infra- structure for the school is already here,” Whitworth said.

As for the church on Main Street, it will be used for student Masses until the new school is built.

A time capsule will be placed behind a cornerstone to the new church as part of the Jan. 27 dedication, which will be presided over by Belleville Diocese Bishop Edward Braxton.

And as parishioners flock to worship in this new church that Sunday, they will be greeted by the Bible verse its congregation voted to have etched near its entrance: “For where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).

More photos of the new church project can be viewed online at

A view from behind the pews looking toward the altar inside the new church.

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