Historic Beauty

Historic Beauty

Creighton restores entrance of St. John’s

By Blake Ursch

For a brief moment this fall, anyone walking through Creighton University’s Skinner Mall caught a rare sight: The heavy wooden doors of St. John’s Church suspended in air.

In September, construction crews used a crane to remove the doors from the entrance of the historic church as part of a restoration project. The doors, estimated to weigh between 600 and 700 pounds apiece, will be stripped of paint and refinished, restoring them to their original appearance.

The project came about at the suggestion of Creighton President the Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ, PhD. While meeting with Derek Scott, assistant vice president in Creighton’s Department of Facilities Management, Fr. Hendrickson suggested restoring the doors to their original state. Scott began stripping away the layer of paint on the door and knew right away that it was the direction to go.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to renew and restore the historic beauty of these doors,” Fr. Hendrickson says. “St. John’s Church sits at the heart of our campus, in so many ways. It is a warm and welcoming place, a place of spiritual renewal and inner reflection. It is appropriate that these doors be revived for their past splendor to welcome future generations.”

The removal, performed by Omaha’s Prairie Construction, went smoothly, says Brian Besack, senior project manager at Creighton. Gerst Painting, based in Elkhorn, Nebraska, is handling the stripping and refinishing.

“I’ve been on campus for 28 years and nothing’s been done to them other than a fresh coat of paint. They’ve been painted for at least 30 years,” Besack says.   

As the church is a historic building, Creighton obtained approval from History Nebraska, the state historical society, for the restoration.

St. John’s was dedicated on May 6, 1888, less than a year after the cornerstone was laid. The Jesuit community had intended the church to be dedicated to St. John the Baptist, the patron of John A. Creighton. However, Bishop James O’Connor, having not been informed of this, instead dedicated the church to St. John the Evangelist.

The church, built in the English Gothic style, remained unfinished for decades, due to lack of funds at the time of construction. In 1922, a building committee was formed and began finishing the church as originally planned.

In September 1923, the church’s completed addition was dedicated. Improvements, additions and changes continued to be made for the next several decades: The stained-glass windows were added between 1946 and 1949, and the right tower steeple was installed

in 1976. Significant renovations were com-pleted in 2007, which included changes to the altar configuration and installation of the crucifix that now hangs from the ceiling near the altar.  

The front entrance, Besack says, was due for some attention. The heavy wooden doors had sustained their share of damage over the years, with areas of splitting and missing pieces of wood revealing their age.

The restoration work involves stripping the doors entirely down to bare wood and refinishing them, restoring them to their original color. The south doors of the two bell towers will receive the same restoration treatment.  

“We knew we needed to do something to freshen up the look of the south entrance of the church, and that kind of evolved into this opportunity once painters exposed a bit of the original finish,” Besack says. “We don’t want them to look brand new; we want them to show some age and character and preserve what that original look was.”