Student designs traditional look for Remsen St. Mary's chapel

Thursday, February 24, 2011
Simon Pick, a senior at Remsen St. Mary's High School, stands in the school's chapel, which he redesigned and refurbished last summer. With the help of his father, Simon painted the walls, Sanctus arch, altar, tabernacle, statues and statue stands. They also re-sanded and re-varnished the pews. Among other things, the chapel is used by sports teams, faculty and staff as a room to gather in for prayer.

Most high school students spend their summers soaking up the sun and trying to make some money.

Remsen St. Mary's senior Simon Pick, however, spent his summer refurbishing the school's chapel.

"I just thought it'd be nice to give it a face-lift," Simon said.

It'd been about 15 years since the chapel had been refurbished, so Simon took it upon himself to update the chapel.

"When he asked if he could do it, I just said, 'by all means, go for it,'" said Mary Arens, spiritual life director at St. Mary's. "And from there, he did."

But the changes didn't just happen over night.

"It kind of came in stages," Simon said.

He chose a more traditional look for the chapel "to make it look more like a sacred space," Simon said.

He came up with the new design for the chapel with the help of one of his friends, Andy Galles, who is a St. Mary's alum currently in seminary.

"He was going to college for architecture, so that helped," Simon said with a laugh.

Simon had only a limited amount of objects to work with in the chapel -- one altar and tabernacle, two pictures hanging on the walls and a few rows of folding chairs.

But local donations soon changed that.

Galles donated a crucifix. St. Mary's science teacher Ruth Eberhard donated another statue. Cyril Schmitt, a local carpenter, built an altar platform. He also built statue stands, which Simon designed.

For seating, the chapel's folding chairs were replaced by pews donated by St. John's Lutheran Church in Le Mars.

But they had to be refinished first.

"Simon and his family, they stripped all of them and re-sanded and re-varnished all of them," Arens said.

Simon and his father, Steve Pick, also painted the room and its furnishings with paint bought using money donated by the Knights of Columbus.

"It'd be the days when it was 100 (degrees) and above, and he and his father would be in here painting and even up into the evenings," Arens said. "Just whittling away at it, they just worked so hard on it."

So how many hours did it take to repaint and refurbish the room?

"I didn't count," Simon said, adding that the stenciling along the walls took awhile.

He and his dad painted the room's altar, tabernacle, statues and stands white with gold trim.

"Well, we had the altar, of course, and we wanted the rest of the room to match," Simon said. "So we took inspiration from the altar and did the rest of the room."

Fifteen years ago, the altar was found under the school's stage, and the tabernacle was found in the basement of Remsen St. Mary's Catholic Church.

"We believe that they are over 100 years old," Arens said. "We just feel that they are just a gift to have here now that they can be used again."

The chapel, which was recently re-blessed by Bishop R. Walker Nickless during a visit to the school, is not big enough to use for the all-school Mass held weekly in the high school cafeteria.

But occasionally Mass is held there, Simon said.

"We wish we could be using it 24-7, but we try and use it as much as possible because it is such a gift to a Catholic school," Arens said.

One of the chapel's uses includes hosting the Eucharist for Mass.

"It's nice that we can have a place to store the Eucharist in and not have to be transporting it from the church back and forth," Arens said.

Catholics believe the Eucharist is God in the present in the form of bread and wine, she explained.

Faculty and staff use the chapel, too.

"We gather in here every Friday, which is nice to have a gathering area where we pray before we leave for the weekend," Arens said.

Sports teams also utilize the chapel.

"Many times, teams gather in here for prayers before games, which is wonderful," Arens said, adding that the football coach has his players gather in the chapel to read scripture and pray before every game.

The spiritual life director is very pleased with how the chapel looks now and is amazed at how much work Simon put into it.

"For a senior in high school to have such a passion for this is absolutely wonderful. It's a real tribute to who he is," Arens said.

After graduation, Simon plans to study music and theology at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan.

"Simon's a one in a million for students. He's just been such a gift to the school," Arens said. "We're really going to miss him when he's gone. He's just a great kid."

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