St. Mary in the Mountains to be restored

Structural restoration of St. Mary's in the Mountains Catholic Church in Virginia City will give it back its choir loft.

According to church administrator Nick Nicosia, in the 1950s a group of monks that were given stewardship of the church decided that the ornate choir loft was too fancy and needed to be taken down. Unfortunately, the choir loft was essential to the structural integrity of the building, literally holding the walls up.

The monks left after a year or so, and the Diocese of Reno installed steel and concrete into he walls to keep the building erect, an inexpensive retrofit of the times, but not sufficient by today's standards.

Now Paul Ferrari of Ferrari Shields Engineers and Lee Johnson of Reyman Brothers Construction and their employees will structurally improve the church to the latest standards, which includes restoring the choir loft.

Michael Quilici, chief development officer for the Diocese, said the choir loft was important to the structural integrity.

Quilici announced the structural retrofit plans at a press conference Thursday, where he announced that the church will have its final Mass at 11:30 a.m. Sept. 7, with the work beginning Sept. 8.

Mass will be said at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, in Virginia City at 11:30 a.m. Sundays starting Sept. 14. There will be no Saturday Masses during restoration.

Ferrari said the church will be as solid as any building in Northern Nevada, and able to withstand an earthquake as strong as the 6.0 quake that hit Wells on Feb. 21.

"We will use a reinforced concrete seismic system that will be installed into the historic fabric of the building," he said.

"No one part of the building will bear the brunt of any seismic shifts," he said, either through quakes or the normal shifting of the earth under the town, which was built on top of miles of underground mines and tunnels.

"We will take out two layers of brick and install the concrete columns, then put the bricks back. It will look the same. No one will see the work that will be done."

He said there was not enough money in the budget to replace crumbling mortar in the church's brick exterior, but that work may be done in the future.

The steeple, which leans back about 10 degrees, will not be straightened, Ferrari said.

"Sometimes when you straighten something you make it worse," Ferrari said.

The leaning was caused by the break of a wrought-iron rod that he said probably broke within 30 years of the church's construction.

Ferrari said the steeple was structurally sound, and as well-built as the church itself.

"The engineers on the Comstock knew what they were doing," he said. "These people were very intelligent and knowledgeable."

They will remove interior lights and put in rope lighting that will illuminate the church, but without being seen, and the chandelier will be restored.

Angelo Petrini, the head of the parish council, said being without the church would be a burden, but it would be worth it.

"We've been waiting a long time," he said. "This is the mother church of the whole state of Nevada, and it's going to be restored to its original condition."

The work will be paid for by a $500,000 grant from the National Park Service's Save America's Treasures program along with a $200,000 grant from the Conrad Hilton

Foundation and many other donors.

The total amount needed will be $2.1 million, though the project must first be approved by Bishop Calvo.

Petrini credited Nicosia with pushing for and applying for grants.

"He's the one that actually started this with putting together a 300-page National Park

Service grant and the Hilton grant," Petrini said. "That was what started the whole process. If it was not for him, we wouldn't be here today."

Nicosia said he did what he had to do to further the mission of St. Mary's, which is "to spread the gospel throughout the world. We reach tourists form 60 countries and all the states. This will bring more focus on St. Mary's and the Comstock."

- Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at or call 881-7351.


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