Senior Living

By James L. Dean For The Independent John O’Neill is rebuild- ing the church where his parents were married and where he took catechism. Actually, it’s a model of the Cathedral of the Nativ- ity of the Blessed Virgin Marythatmaywellhavebeen builtbeforetheactualchurch, muchasmodelsarebuiltnow to show what a project will look like when finished. When St. Mary’s Cathe- dralwaspreparingforits90th anniversarylastyear,TheRev. JimGolka, rectorMikeKube and others discussed repair- ing the model to display during the celebration. Having the 42-inch by 29- inchmodel repaired profes- sionally would have been prohibitively expensive, so, as with many church proj- ects, avolunteerwas sought. Awebof connections led toO’Neill,whohas extensive modelbuildingexperiencebe- causeof hisinvolvementwith model railroading.Givenhis historywith the church and his modeling skills, he ac- cepted the challenge. “This thing had some rough handling over the years,” O’Neill said. “Some- body commented that it had been up in the attic at the rectory for some years. “Mike and I looked at it and tried to talk about the scope of what it needed. The first thing that jumps out is that some of the windows were in bad shape and needed repaired.” Closer examination re- vealedmissing shingles and adamagedbasewithonepiece broken off completely. Also missing was the cross at the top of the east entrance of the church and the elaborate steeple. Fortunately, original blueprintswill guide the cre- ation of the steeple, which has several extensions with gargoyle faces at the end of each. When it came time to re- build the model windows, O’Neill made a discovery. “I went over one day and got in the backof mypickup and took some photos from the outside because there’s quite a number of different windows,” he said. “The thing that I discovered fairly quickly was that the origi- nalsdidn’tmatchthechurch. “I knew I needed to re- place some of the windows, but then I made a decision just to replace all of them,” O’Neill said. Heaccomplishedthewin- dow challenge by using his photographstomakecorrectly proportioned images of the windows, attaching those to styrene plastic and thenme- ticulously transferring and cutting out the correct fram- ing for the exterior. The original model used what he believes may have been basswood. The cutouts toformthewebbingappeared to have been whittled. The “glass” in the re- storedwindows is photos of the windows printed onto copy paper and then glued to the frames. The side win- dows are of colored glass, not stained glass, a step taken because of the cost. The original modeler usedsome sort of small brad nails to secure the window frames using what O’Neill described as a “zillion” half- inchnails. Themodel’s shin- gles also were nailed. Thenewmodelusesmod- ernglues, whichbondmuch stronger than the previous nail method. O’Neill created a new foundation for themodel as well because much of the damage to the original. The old shingleswere all stripped away and are be- ing replaced with new “slate” shingles, whichwill be colored to match the ex- isting, weathered slate on the actual cathedral. Lighting inside the orig- inal model was provided by small, red Christmas bulbs. O’Neill stripped out the oldwiring and replaced the lights with multiple banks of 12-volt LED strips. White foamboard glued to the un- derside of the roof reflects light into the nooks and crannies to show off the re- stored windows. The large stained-glass windowat the east entrance of the actual cathedral was originally shipped from It- aly in assembled form. Recreating the master- piece for the model was a painstaking process made possible throughstep-by-step Photoshop enlargements to correct the distorted camera perspective. With 200 hours involved in the project so far and an- other 50 to 100 togo, O’Neill’s eye for detail has paid div- idends. That kind of atten- tion was honed through a 37-year engineering career withNewHolland inGrand Island and countless hours of model railroading. In addition to the cross, steeple and final details, he will be building a base on which to mount the model toensureamoresolid future. Also in the works is a sur- roundingof somesort topre- vent curious fingers from reaching thefinishedmodel. O’Neill first became in- volvedwithmodel railroad- ing when his mother gave him a train set in 1973, the year he andhiswife, Arlene, moved back to the area. His interest grewover the years, and one large room in their basement home is dedicated to his train layout and re- lated projects. He is an active member of the Tri-City Model Rail- roaders and built the Burl- ington freight house that is part of the club’s layout at the old Burlington station. That model took 300 hours andwas built withminimal reference material and en- hanced by the memory of a manwhoonceworked in the building. Otherwork is on display at StuhrMuseumin the chil- dren’s area and on the lay- outs of fellow modelers in the area. John’s parents would no doubt be quite proud of his efforts to restore the model • Controlled Entry Buildings • Community Rooms • Laundry Rooms • Inside Mailboxes • Elevator Within Building Call Now To Reserve Your New Apartment Home & Become A Part Of This Friendly Community & enjoy… These apartments let you enjoy the beauty and delight of senior living without the worry of yard work or home maintenance. 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Call Today 308-382-3436 Let us help you stay in your home! Straight Rail & Curved Stairlifts email: Call for a FREE in-home estimate today! Carol 308-381-8220 The Grand Island Independent THURSDAY, MARCH 21, 2019 4A senior LIVING For the Independent/James L. Dean John O’Neill poses with the St. Mary’s Cathedral model he is restoring. He has about 200 hours of work in the project and estimates he will need 50-100 more to finish it. ABOVE RIGHT: LEDs inside the model light up the stained glass entryway. Creating the “window” required multiple steps to maintain the proper perspective. RIGHT: O’Neill shows a new window frame created from Styrene for the restored cathedral model. Part of an old wooden frame is shown for comparison. Bringing an old church back to life, one window at a time