| Home | Letters to the Editor | Newspaper Articles | Pictures | How to Help | E-Mail Us |


In the March/April 2009 issue of The Iowan

Our Towns

Restoring Faith 

Story by Terri Queck-Matzie   |   Photography courtesy Dick Doherty 

It was a hot August afternoon in 1995 when a lone arsonist set fire to All Saints Church in Stuart. In a matter of hours the rare Byzantine-style church, a local landmark, was engulfed in flames. Declaring rage for the Catholic Church, the arsonist claimed that his destructive act aimed to “take the heart and soul out of a small Catholic community.”

Stuart’s heart and soul was anything but weakened. A decade and a half later, Project Restore — the nonprofit group formed to salvage and reinstate the structure — is well on its way to creating a community gathering place and center for religious tolerance.

In its original state, All Saints was a rare jewel. Loosely modeled after St. Mark’s in Venice , Italy , its walls were hand-carved limestone: native stone for the foundation, harder stone imported from Indiana for the exterior. Its Italian Baroque interior included hand-painted frescos, Italian marble altars, and stained-glass windows from Germany . Three copper domes — including one 33 feet in diameter — topped the structure. People of all faiths in the small town of Stuart helped with the two-year building project, completed in 1910.

When fire destroyed it 85 years later, some parishioners wondered if it was time to move on; they built a new church on the edge of town. But the Stuart community deemed All Saints’ iconic heritage too valuable to lose. So neighbors got to work. Engineers determined the walls — dedicated to God in their original construction — to be sound, but nearly everything else had sustained fire and water damage. Bit by bit, dedicated volunteers worked on what at times seemed like an insurmountable task. Debris was cleared away. Salvageable furnishings and artwork were painstakingly restored.

The chapel was rebuilt and put in use. A kitchen was added for gatherings. A Serbian immigrant Eastern Orthodox congregation from Des Moines found a new home there and began holding regular services, feeling welcome amidst the familiar architecture and accouterments. Activity began to surround the still-charred main sanctuary.

Meanwhile, action continued behind the scenes. Title to the property was obtained from the diocese. Grant applications became a way of life. Among the grant dollars received was a $545,000 CAT/Vision Iowa Grant and roughly $400,000 in grants and low-interest loans from the USDA and the Central Iowa Power Cooperative (CIPCO). The city of Stuart joined the effort, passing a $1.7 million bond referendum to help fund the project and its use as a community center.

Slowly the elaborate sanctuary began to return. Debris and soot were cleaned away. Brick and limestone were tuck-pointed. In November 2008 came a major advancement  — the drum that holds the central copper dome was hoisted onto the roof. This January the new dome was set in place, once again making All Saints the most visible landmark for miles.

Completion of the $2.7 million project is now slated for fall 2009. When finished, All Saints will include a main sanctuary area with removable stages, optional theatre or banquet seating, and the chapel and kitchen areas. “We hope to fill a need in Stuart and central Iowa ,” says Dick Doherty, an active member of Project Restore since its inception. “We can host weddings, accommodate school theatrical productions and concerts, and provide accommodations for meetings and family gatherings.”

But the most meaningful part of the building will be the kiosks highlighting educational information on the world’s major religions — a homage to both the arson and the perseverance of All Saints. “Part of our mission,” underscores Doherty, “is to provide a venue for teaching tolerance and understanding.” 

Architects: Kirk Blunck and Jeff Wagner of HLKB in Des Moines
Construction: Koester in Grimes



Click to enlarge image





| Home | Letters to the Editor | Newspaper Articles | Pictures | How to Help | E-Mail Us |

©1996-2009 Project Restore, Stuart, IA USA. All Rights Reserved.
Web site designed by Scott Neader of Internet Solutions and hosted by QTH.com