Extreme Makeover: Scottsdale Church Edition

Marilyn HawkesJanuary 6, 2022
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the finished beautification project; Photos by Marilyn Hawkes

A Catholic church in Scottsdale gets a holy makeover.

It’s hard to imagine the walls and ceilings of Saint Bernadette Catholic Church once being stark white, the windows clear glass. That all changed this year when the Scottsdale church undertook a massive project to beautify its nave and sanctuary, an endeavor started by the church’s former pastor, Father Pete Rossa, who died unexpectedly in 2017 at age 52. 

Saint Bernadette’s new pastor, Father Don Kline, along with deacons Peter Auriemma and Al Homiski, picked up the reins to finish the project. The church, which belongs to the Diocese of Phoenix, was established 26 years ago, but the new Romanesque-style building with its towering semicircular arches is only 6 years old. 

After striking out with local artists, who had backlogs of up to three years, the church contracted with Conrad Schmitt Studios in Wisconsin to paint awe-inspiring frescos and murals on the church’s ceilings and walls, and to fabricate stunning stained-glass windows. The sacred art depicts scenes from Catholic liturgy, including the story of Saint Bernadette; the Stations of the Cross; and the lives of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ. “It’s an amazing transformation,” Auriemma says. “Now it feels like a church in Rome.” 

The craftsmen, who hailed from across the globe, started in May 2021 and worked diligently for five months to complete the renovation. “They would have 50 to 60 artists working at any given point, and they had five levels of scaffolding,” Kline says. Some of the murals were applied directly to the ceiling and others were painted on canvas in the studio and then affixed to the ceiling. New gold leaf was added to the church’s dome. 

“Father Kline felt that the traditional idea of beauty that has enhanced art from the Renaissance into the Baroque into modern times should be followed,” Auriemma says. “The whole idea is that beauty is transcendent and can be a gateway to meeting God.”

In addition, the church has installed a 32-foot-tall pipe organ in the loft, built by New Jersey’s Peragallo Pipe Organ Co. The organ has close to 3,000 pipes that make different sounds, from trumpet and strings to harps and bells. “It’s all put together in the [New Jersey] shop, then we take it apart and reset it up here,” Frank Peragallo says. Once installed, Peragallo and staff tune each pipe by hand, a process that takes weeks.

The work was largely completed in November, and parishioners returned to a complete makeover after five months of attending mass in the church hall. “They were in awe,” Kline says. “Speechless.”

Saint Bernadette Catholic Church pre-renovation; Photo by Marilyn Hawkes
an under-construction look at the church’s new pipe organ, since completed; Photo by Marilyn Hawkes
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