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Gold leaf on St. Ann's cross should last several decades

Photo by Rachelle Klemme Dieter Meister brushes flakes of gold leaf into a container at the old Golden Russet Potato building on Wednesday.1 / 2
Nicole Hessig, youth coordinator of St. Ann's Catholic Church, stands next to the tall cross April 20, the day it was taken down to be restored.2 / 2

The cross at the pinnacle of St. Ann's Catholic Church has been a Wadena landmark for over a century, and the last two weeks have seen its restoration with a new and long-lasting gold leaf covering.

St. Ann's is taller than the water tower, so the work on the steeple has been hard to miss.

The cross was taken down April 20 and scheduled to be put back up May 4, in time for Rev. Don Wagner's ordination anniversary, after completion of the gold leafing process.

Diggy Lorentz and his crew at Dan's Painting and Body Shop did most of the surface preparation and sandblasting, and worked on the cross for five days.

Professional decorator and painter Dieter Meister traveled from the Chicago area to work on gold-leafing the cross.

Meister and parish trustee Dean Uselman did the priming work Tuesday, and gold leafing that same night and Wednesday inside the former Golden Russett Potato building.

The 23-carat gold leaf is extremely thin: combined with the paper it is applied from, it is three ten-thounsandths of an inch, and the gold leaf by itself is only about a fourth of that.

Meister retired after 48 years, and his specialty in the last 15-20 years has been restoration of churches and other historical buildings.

He is formerly of Verndale, and two winters ago, he did the gold leafing on the altar of St. Hubert's Catholic Church in Bluegrass.

According to Uselman, the gilded cross was last taken down for work over 30 years ago and is well over a century old.

St. Ann's Church was originally built in the country in Compton Township, and Compton Cemetery still stands south of Black's Grove Park and Minn. Highway 29.

A fire burned the first church building, and the congregation decided to rebuild in town.

In 1895, the foundation was laid and the church was built in its present location in Wadena. It was added onto roughly 20 years later, but was always the same height and scale.

The last time the cross was taken down for gold leafing was 1980, but it wore off within a few years.

Uselman said, however, the techniques used this time around should make the gold leaf hang on for 70 to 100 years.

According to Wagner and Uselman, the church's recent extensive restoration began in the last few years with stained glass windows. They were in bad shape and some were falling apart, and a $220,000 restoration project fixed them.

There was also an infestation of bats. Old insulation was removed and then replaced with foam insulation.

Later, and more visible to the public, was restoration of the exterior of the church including tuckpointing, new shingles and restoration of the steeple and cross.

Pogatchnik Restoration of the St. Cloud area has been working on the exterior for the past several months.

A contribution by a parishioner allowed the church to have a new sign installed last summer, constructed with materials saved when the old St. Ann's school building was demolished in 2010.

Wagner and Uselman said there were questions on the grammatical incorrectness of the spelling on the sign, "St.-Ann's," but said the hyphen was in the original nameplate of the St. Ann's school.

After the cross, Uselman said, next is exterior painting, carpeting and parking space, and the overall project would make the church ready for the next generations to worship.

He said the church was not structurally unsafe - the purpose of the restoration work is to fix it before it ever gets to that point, and it is typical maintenance of an old brick building.

Wagner described the project as "treasuring the past and looking forward to the future."