By STEVEN HOWELL Press-Republican
---- — LAKE PLACID — The rock upon which this church is built now includes a little Lake Placid granite.
With massive renovations complete, St. Agnes Church on Hillcrest Avenue in Lake Placid enjoyed a dedication ceremony recently with a new look and a solid foundation for decades to come.
“In reality, the process began back in the 1970s when the Vatican Council called for significant changes in the liturgy,” the Rev. John Yonkovig, pastor of St. Agnes, said.
Yonkovig said that at that time plans were drawn up, but instead of renovations to the church — due to a lack of funds — the main goal was to keep the school up and running.
“But every pastor since the 1970s on has given thought to renovating the church.”
Fast forward a few decades later, and the plans had turned into a realistic goal. The immediate renovating process began about 18 months ago when parish and finance councils gave the project a green light. Yonkovig said the edifice needed some significant changes, such as opening up the sanctuary to allow people to gather around the altar. And speaking of the altar, a new one was also needed to replace the four or five that had been used over the years.
“It was the feeling that now was the time to put a significant altar in that carries the weight of what an altar should be about,” he said.
The firm of Baker Liturgical Art, a well-known church-restoration company based in Connecticut, was hired to oversee the renovations. A committee of six was formed to negotiate what designs were best suited for St. Agnes.
“Some ideas would have worked anywhere in the United States, but the Adirondacks are a particular part of the country — we love the mountains and forest — and we wanted that represented inside our church,” Yonkovig said.
Two local artists were hired to marry the vision of house of worship meets pristine wilderness.
Lake Placid Bronze sculptor Robert Eccleston created an altar with a base that features two grand tree trunks that intertwine skyward.
“They (the tree trunks) speak of the humanity and divinity of Christ,” Yonkovig said. “Rob really outdid himself. He said this was the most enjoyable project he’s ever done.”
Yonkovig said that Eccleston usually creates military monuments that require exact measurements and style.
“But here his creative juices just flowed.”
Also on the makeover list was a baptismal font, which was created by Lake Placid sculptor Tyler Rand.
“Baptism took on a very significant role,” Yonkovig said.
Rand’s baptismal font is made from Lake Placid granite.
“It’s a billion-year-old piece of granite. The bowl has Whiteface Mountain, Mount Marcy and the Great Range carved right into the sides,” Yonkovig said. “It makes the statement that we live our faith right here in the mountains.”
During the renovations, the church was totally gutted. In addition to the centerpiece altar and baptismal font, the church also received a new pulpit, pews, electrical wiring, lighting, paint, radiant heating, a ventilation system and porcelain tiles that grace the center aisle.
Baker Liturgical Art employee Geoffrey Kostecki created a mural that’s displayed in the church sanctuary. It surrounds a window that depicts the Ascension dated to 1905 and part of the original church.
“He created a mountain-scape surrounding that window,” Yonkovig said. “It really has brought the window out. It’s striking. He’s a true artist.”
The altar was installed exactly one week ago today in time for the dedication ceremony last Saturday. Some 400 people, including the counsel general of Brazil from Montreal and Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall, attended.
“It was an overflowing church,” Yonkovig said. “We had a choir of 35 voices, violins, trumpets; the music was exceptionally uplifting.”
The Most Rev. Terry R. LaValley, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg, oversaw the blessing and dedication of the new altar with the pouring of the oils of the Sacred Chrism.
“It’s a powerful rite,” Yonkovig said. “Most people have never seen the blessing of an altar.”
The cost of the renovations totaled about $700,000.
“We feel that the renovations have put the church in shape place for the next 50 to 75 years,” Yonkovig said.
Yonkovig and the parish are more than pleased with all of the results.
“Some were quite anxious at first,” he said. “But, you know, it’s a beautiful old church, and we’re just thrilled with the finished product. I offer my gratitude to the people of the village who have been so supportive in making this come about, to their great love to the parish and their faith.”