Nebraska craftsman devoted to project

Church renovator Jerry Ratigan may work regularly on cathedrals and basilicas, but he's taking extra care with St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church in Park Rapids.

Church renovator Jerry Ratigan may work regularly on cathedrals and basilicas, but he's taking extra care with St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church in Park Rapids.

"I've been a bit more hands-on with this one than I normally am," Ratigan said.

St. Peter's holds a special place in the Nebraska native's heart. Ratigan has been attending Mass there during the summer for more than 30 years.

Ratigan's roots in Park Rapids extend even farther back. "I started coming to Park Rapids when I was 15 years old," said Ratigan, 76.

Ratigan has worked on church renovation since he started apprenticing for his father at age 9. Today, he is one of the few renovators who create antique gold leafing.


"Gold leafing is like a lost art," Ratigan said. The five-step process requires precision timing in applying thin sheets of gold to its adhesive varnish, he added.

Together with his wife and son, he owns and operates Ratigan-Schottler, a 50-employee business headquartered in Beatrice, NE specializing in solid oak furniture.

Ratigan-Schottler also installed furnishings at Calvary Lutheran, Riverside United Methodist and First Baptist Church in Park Rapids.

Recently, the company completed work at the Baltimore Basilica, the oldest cathedral in the US.

The business combines "old-fashioned" building techniques with modern equipment.

Ratigan credits the crafters in his company, some of whom have been working with wood for upwards of 45 years, with the high degree of artistry his company provides.

"If you can draw it or imagine it being made out of wood, we can do it," he said.

Let there be lights


Parishioners of St. Peters may first notice increased illumination in the church.

The previous ceiling had a dark stain to it and dim lighting, Ratigan said. St. Peters installed brighter fixtures and replaced the wood with knotty pine, "a wood probably found in as plentiful a supply in Minnesota as anywhere else in the world," Ratigan said.

Ratigan fashioned the pews from Minnesota oak treated and donated from Menahga.

A new blue carpet, representing the many lakes in the region, stretches out across the floor and adds to the local symbolism.

The altar, lectern and baptismal font will also be topped with granite found in Minnesota quarries. The pieces feature Ratigan's trademark antique gold leafing.

New triple-paned, stained glass windows, symbolizing the seven sacraments of Catholicism, will be placed in the windows and a rear installation.

Two wooden statues are on order from Italy and will hopefully arrive in time for the dedication July 8, Ratigan said.

Additionally, Ratigan is restoring two statues in St. Peter's collection for more than 70 years. He will repair the chipping, restore the original coloration and rework the gold leaf on the statues of St. Peter and of Mary with the baby Jesus.


Ratigan commended the renovation committee for their artistic vision and willingness to reach consensus. "They have been incredibly easy to work with," he said.

Many craftsmen who attend the church are working on the project, said Father Dennis Wieland. He added church members donated volunteer time during the demolition phase.

"Little by little, it's coming together," Wieland said.

Deep roots

Although Ratigan spent his entire life renovating churches, he learned about the renovation of St. Peters by reading about it in the church bulletin.

"It's where I go when I need to go to Mass up here," Ratigan said.

Ratigan owns a cabin on Cook Island in Mantrap Lake. He vacations here five or six times a summer "for up to 30 days" and once or twice in the winter.

His family first started vacationing at Big Sand Lake, where Ratigan said he had his first northern fishing experience. After one trip, he was hooked on the region.


"I may make my living in Nebraska, but my heart is in Minnesota," the avid angler said.

Ratigan purchased the island property 34 years ago, after several decades of picnics there filled him with curiosity about the deserted cabin.

He said he still enjoys sitting on the dock and watching the sun set.

"I know God is everywhere, but sometimes I feel like he may be hanging around right there," he said.

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