By Greg Knight, Wrangell Sentinel
 
Fr. Thomas Weise sits next to statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in front of St. Rose of Lima church, Wrangell. (Photo by Greg Knight)

For Father Thomas Weise and the St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, the Rasmuson Foundation is providing pennies from Heaven.

Nearly $25,000 worth of pennies from the foundation, to be exact.

The foundation recently provided the church with a check in the amount of $24,718 for renovations to the historic building on Church Street in downtown.
Father Weise, who has been pastor of the church since 2010, said the changes were necessary to ensure the upkeep of one of Wrangell’s oldest Houses of God.
“A house of worship has a special place in any community for the parishioners that attend here, but also for those that walk down the sidewalk and see it,” he said. “If it’s in disrepair, we have to do something for the greater community to show love and respect for it. We try to do our very best to keep our buildings up to date.”

The church, which was built in 1909, has been undergoing renovation for more than a year and has, up to now, seen new 40-inch rigid foam insulation, new siding and trim, the installation of thermal windows inside and out, and a new electric boiler installed. The renovations to date have cost around $106,000—but were paid for with a $70,000 endowment from the late Carl Guggenbickler and his family, and a $10,000 donation from former Governor Frank Murkowski’s family to pay down the parish’s debt to the Juneau diocese.

“The Frank and Nancy Murkowski Family Trust donated $10,000 to pay off (our) debt with the diocese of Juneau which was caused in large part by the un-insulated building costing too much to heat,” Father Weise said. “They also made introductions between me and the Rasmuson Foundation.”

An energy audit showed that the walls of the church had little or no insulation, and the drafty, 1925 single pane windows accounted for the extremely high heating costs.
According to Father Weise, the parish also raised $35,000 over the course of a year to help defray the costs associated with the work.

Rasmuson’s involvement, Weise added, was more than unusual for the Foundation. They usually don’t give money to churches for any reason,” he added. “But, because we are the first and oldest Catholic Church in Alaska, they decided it was a worthy cause.”

The Catholic Parish of St. Rose of Lima is also significant to state and local history because it is the first Catholic parish in the State of Alaska, established on May 4, 1879.

“Working with the Alaska producer of rigid Insulfoam insulation we received a 47 percent discount on high quality insulation,” Weise said. He designed exterior finishes out of plastic trim wood made from recycled plastic bottles, high-quality vinyl siding, and painted aluminum flashing so that the church and rectory can be washed down, but will never need to be painted.

Now that the exterior insulation is nearly completed, Weise’s plan is to direct rainwater and snow melt away from the Church and Hall in order to protect the building and improve energy efficiency. Following that, he plans to move inside to replace the 50-year-old carpet, upgrade the incandescent lighting to energy efficient lighting, repair the water damage in the basement and entryway of the church, and finish up with a detail painting of the hammered tin.

The church is also looking for volunteers to paint the statue of Our Lady on the front lawn. Paint is available at the church. For more information, contact Father Weise at 874-3771.