Sacred Heart Mission renovated by students from California Catholic high school
Friday, Apr. 17, 2015
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Students and staff from St. Francis High School in La Caņada Flintridge, Calif., restore Sacred Heart Mission in La Sal. IC photo/Marie Mischel
LA SAL — Sacred Heart Mission on Highway 46 in La Sal isn’t the kind of church the boys from Los Angeles are accustomed to: It is a one-room cement building smaller than most fast-food restaurants, with no stained-glass windows or organ. Outside is an irrigated field; the La Sal mountains loom in the background.
“Me personally, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a church this small – it’s almost like another sense of spiritual,” said Andrew Parker, a junior at St. Francis High School in La Cañada Flintridge, Calif. “In the city, you go and you get all these big churches and everything, and there’s all the city life around, but [here] you’ve just got this one church and you’ve just got this beautiful view out here. You don’t get that in the city. It’s a great change, to … really experience what it’s like out here.”
Parker was among the 20 students from the all-boys school in California who spent their Easter break in La Sal, renovating Sacred Heart Mission as a way to fulfill their service hours requirement. Chaperoning them on the trip were several priests and brothers from St. Francis High, a college preparatory school that was founded by Capuchin/Franciscan friars in 1946.
Allen Lund, a rancher in the Blanding area who also sits on the school’s Board of Directors, organized the trip for the boys and had them stay at his ranch, said Andy Burghdorf, a school spokesman.
The group arrived in Utah on Monday, April 6. By Thursday they had cleared brush from around Sacred Heart Mission, removed the metal ties that were sticking out from the concrete walls and smoothed stucco paint on the exterior. They painted the interior, and also removed the pews, scraped, sanded and repainted them, then replaced them.
“If you saw it before and you see it now, it’s amazing what they have done,” said Jim McGann, a local contractor who oversaw the work.
Sacred Heart Mission, which was built in 1957 with funding from Catholic Extension, has 8-inch concrete walls and is very sturdy, said McGann, a Saint Pius X parishioner. Although the building has been re-roofed several times, it hasn’t had maintenance for at least the last 10 years, so “it just needed a lot of TLC,” he added; with the work the boys did “I think it will be here another 50 years.”
The boys were tenacious, McGann said, not only because of all their effort but because they worked in the 50-mph winds that blew through the area that week. “They were just out here plugging away.”
Victor Lovato, a member of one of the founding families of Sacred Heart Mission, said he appreciates the work the boys did. As a boy, Lovato helped haul the rock to construct the building; his oldest brother was one of the primary builders, he said. Before the mission was erected, Mass was celebrated in his family’s house, he said: They would have to move the furniture out every Sunday, and “we used the closet for confession,” he said.
To show their appreciation to the group from St. Francis HS, the Lovato family hosted a BBQ lunch on Wednesday and enchiladas on Thursday; other families in the area helped split the cost, Lovato said.
“It’s a wonderful experience, getting to get a literal taste of the culture out here in Utah,” said Clyde Johnson, a St. Francis HS senior.
When the congregation at St. Pius X Parish in Moab learned last fall that the boys would be making the trip to repair the mission, they began a monthly collection to raise money for the materials, netting enough that they also were able to put away some money for ongoing maintenance, said Father Bill Wheaton, pastor.
Church services are celebrated once a month at Sacred Heart Mission from May through October; the church is closed in the winter because snow often blocks the road, Fr. Wheaton said. The mission serves a handful of families who live in the area year-round, but during the summer some people from Moab drive the 30 miles to attend Mass in La Sal because it can be 15 degrees cooler there, he said; Coloradoans also travel the 13 miles from the border to attend, he said.
The trip wasn’t all work for the boys. In addition to repairing the mission, they visited Bluff, where they attended a presentation on the Navajo Nation; observed a cattle branding; and hiked in Arches National Park, Burghdorf said.
“All around it’s been a great experience,” he said. “We like the fact that they can do service, but probably the best experience for them is building the bonds of brotherhood. They’re from different classes and they’re all from different areas of Los Angeles, so just the experience of coming together and doing something like this, they grow really close.”
Getting to know his schoolmates “like brothers” was a highlight of the trip, Johnson agreed. He also enjoyed the country. “I feel that when you’re closer to nature you’re closer to God in a way, especially when you help out in a small community, giving back,” he said.
Experiencing nature was also Parker’s favorite part of the trip, he said. In addition, he appreciated the opportunity to “do good in the world, and that’s a great feeling. When we started out [at the mission] there were so many weeds and bushes and everything that we needed to clear out, and just to see the difference that we’ve made has been pretty eye-opening.”
What struck the boys most, however, were the stars in the heavens, which they saw during the Canyonlands by Night tour on the Colorado River.
“It was an absolutely amazing experience, just getting to watch the stars out on the riverboat,” Johnson said.
“It’s great to go and finally get a view of what stars actually look like out here,” Parker agreed. “We don’t get any stars in L.A.”