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Fresh paint for Victoria's St. Fidelis is 3-month project

Three-month project includes repairing plaster. Mass schedule remains as usual.

Margaret Allen
Hays Daily News
Wichita-based Brace Midwest employees Michael Oliveras, left, and Todd Mellinger, right, on Tuesday install scaffolding at The Basilica of St. Fidelis in Victoria in preparation for painting the interior.
St. Fidelis parishioner Harland Rupp, right, on Tuesday discusses the interior paint for St. Fidelis with contractor Tim Linenberger, left, owner of Tim Linenberger Painting & Decoration Inc. of Salina.
Wichita-based Brace Midwest employees last Thursday began installing scaffolding at The Basilica of St. Fidelis in Victoria to prepare for the painting of the cathedral for the first time since 1996.
Wichita-based Brace Midwest employees last Thursday began installing scaffolding at The Basilica of St. Fidelis in Victoria to prepare for the painting of the cathedral for the first time since 1996.

VICTORIA — The last time Tim Linenberger painted the interior of The Basilica of St. Fidelis, the pope hadn’t yet designated it as a basilica, and it was 1996.

Other things have changed too, but some haven’t.

It’s the same 10 colors chosen in 1996 with then-pastor Frank Grinko, said Linenberger, owner of Tim Linenberger Painting & Decoration Inc. of Salina.

But the scaffolding is definitely better, with steel walking decks that span the interior of the Romanesque-style church, rather than narrow wooden planks on tall towers that had to be torn down and rebuilt to move them from one spot to another as painting progressed.

“When you get to be 60 years old, this is the only way to do it,” Linenberger said on Tuesday as he worked with crews to build the steel scaffolding at the 110-year-old cathedral in Victoria.

“It’s safe,” he said. “When they get done with all of this, it will all be decked.”

There’s also a stairway connecting each deck from floor to ceiling.

“The stairway to heaven,” said St. Fidelis parishioner Harland Rupp, on hand to discuss some project details with Linenberger, and looking up at the soaring arched ceiling and stained glass windows.

“Yes,” Linenberger agreed, “the stairway to heaven.”

Three-month project

Officially one of the eight wonders of Kansas, the “Cathedral of the Plains,” as it is called, in 2014 became the first basilica in the state. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and more than 16,000 tourists visit annually.

Tuesday saw Brace Midwest of Wichita in its second week of installing the scaffolding frames, braces, ties, decks and runners.

“Basically it’s a restoration. We’ll stay with the same style and everything,” said Rupp, talking above the noisy clank of hammers and wrenches, the clang of steel, and the din of workers voices echoing through the church.

“The last time the church was painted was 25 years ago, 1996, I believe,” he said. “Linenberger Painting has been painting this church since 1943. They bid it in 1943, 1961, 1979 and 1996. They’ll be replastering all the cracks that we have throughout the walls and ceilings, and once they have that done they’ll start painting. They’ll be putting the intricate artwork up.”

Daily and weekend masses will continue as usual until the three-month project is finished in March. The restoration has been planned for some time, so church-goers aren’t surprised by the scaffolding frames that straddle the pews, Rupp said.

Funding for the project comes from the church’s ordinary financial resources, but Rupp is discreet about the figure.

“Let’s just say it’s a lot,” he said.

A look that lasts

“It’s elegant,” Rupp said Tuesday, referencing the interior colors as he looked toward the altar.

It was Grinko’s intent in 1996, and that of the restoration committee, to paint the interior in a way that would be lasting, Linenberger recalled.

“The colors work with the granite, the windows, the lavenders, the roses, you can see how we’ve tied a lot of these colors in,” he said. “There was great thought and detail in color when we did it the last time.”

Distinctions can be subtle to the casual observer.

“That’s more of a rose, that’s called Trellis Rose,” said Linenberger pointing to areas of the arched ceiling. “This Georgetown on the back wall, that’s more of a lavender. Can you see the difference in color? You’ve got the gray granite columns, all of this white marble.”

Noting the altar, with its statues of the saints and founders of the church, Linenberger explained that the statues of the saints were painted before the church interior.

“Look at Peter and Paul, and look how the colors bind them, how everything just flows,” he said, ticking off the colors for the tall vertical walls and light-filled interior: Trellis Rose, Diffused Light, Pink Beach, Georgetown, Deep Maroon, Arabian Night.

What’s old is new again

Four employees will be on the job for the duration.

“We’re going to paint over everything, which almost breaks my heart because I know what went into it the first time,” Linenberger said, referencing the ornate and detailed stenciling that decorates the arches and other areas.

“It’s almost a shame, but we’re going back with the exact same thing, so when we’re done it will look as good as new,” he said.

The original stencils can’t so much be reused, after 25 years, because they deteriorate over time, he said.

“It’s like a poster board, but it’s linseed-oil impregnated,” Linenberger said. “They dry out and crack, so you have to do them over.”

There’s a trick to the stenciling, he said.

“It’s a stencil that you cut out on a special — it’s called oil board, it’s stencil paper,” he said. “Trace a design, or have a design printed, and then you cut the design, hand stencil it on the wall, and then there’s a lot of points where you fill in.”

Family heritage

Victoria is the hometown of Linenberger’s family. His father, Dennis, now dead, grew up in Victoria and attended church at St. Fidelis. Dennis worked for Tim’s uncle Alex, who painted the church in 1946.

“Dennis was my dad, I worked for my dad, he worked on this church three times. This will be my third time,” Linenberger said, noting he painted it for the first time in 1979, just out of high school.

They’ve done many Catholic churches in western Kansas since, including in St. Ann’s in Walker, St. Joseph’s in Hays, St. Anthony’s in Schoenchen, Our Lady’s in Antonino, “and about every Catholic church from here west along I-70,” he said.

“If you can paint something like this,” Linenberger said of St. Fidelis, “everything else is pretty simple.”

With most of the sanctuary lamps that hang from the ceiling taken down to make room for the scaffolding, Rupp’s mission Tuesday afternoon was to help sort out temporary construction lighting to string up.

“It’s going to be a little bit of a nuisance, but what isn’t when you’re remodeling” Linenberger said. “It’s something you have to go through every 25 years.”