Woodworker and sculptor Gary David designed and built four altars for St. Thomas Church in Potosi, built in 1847. The church is the oldest church in continuous use in the Diocese of Madison and possibly in the state of Wisconsin. (Catholic Herald photos/Mary C. Uhler)
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POTOSI -- Combining function with fine art, local sculptor Gary David has been creating new altars and liturgical pieces for the historic St. Thomas Church in Potosi.
The church is one of two worship sites used by SS. Andrew and Thomas Parish. The other is St. Andrew Church in nearby Tennyson.
The two parishes were merged in 1970. By that year, each parish had already celebrated its centennial.
Restoring historic church
For several years, the parish has been restoring St. Thomas Church. It is the oldest Catholic church in continuous use in the Diocese of Madison.
A 2006 restoration focused on flooring, pews, painting, and landscaping.
About 16 months ago, Gary David was awarded a commission to design and build a complete set of altars for St. Thomas Church. David has a master’s degree in sculpture from the University of Nebraska and has worked in New York and other parts of the country.
“I have spent about 1,800 hours on this project,” he said. “This includes 500 hours on the main altar, 300 hours on each of the side altars, and 700 hours on the back altar.
“It was a perfect opportunity for me from the design perspective,” he said. “I wanted to create
unique, one of a kind features.”
David has a 20-acre wood lot and furnished his own wood for the project.
David started with the main altar, which was dedicated by Bishop Robert C. Morlino last year at the parish’s 175th anniversary Mass.
“It’s solid white oak,” David said of the altar. “The columns are solid walnut. The entire piece weighs 1,000 pounds.”
The Celtic cross on the front of the altar recalls the parish’s Irish heritage.
There are two side altars: one on the left side featuring Mary and one on the right side featuring St. Joseph. Each has the same pedestal design as the main altar. There is a rosewood cross on top of each side altar and carved images of the Trinity.
David’s sculpting talents are shown in the intricate details on all the altars, especially on the bottom of each side altar. Mary’s altar includes a sculpture of the Sacred Heart while St. Joseph’s altar features the face of Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli, who founded the parish in 1836.
David noted that St. Joseph is the patron saint of workers and sculptors.
The back altar is 18 feet tall. This altar features a Eucharistic theme with wheat, grapes, and fish sculpted in wood. It includes a tabernacle replicating a design by Father Mazzuchelli.
A statue of St. Thomas, previously located in a corner of the church, is now placed above the tabernacle.
Fr. Richard Leffler, pastor, blessed the three new altars on July 1.
To complete the project, David plans to build an ambo (lectern) and crucifix stand for St. Thomas Church.
Other work by Gary David
The main altar at St. Thomas Church is the sixth altar David has designed and built. Others are found in churches in Illinois and Iowa.
David has also designed and built 27 bars in private homes and businesses, including the beautiful wood bar in the restaurant at the Potosi Brewery. David is one of the owners of the Potosi Brewery, which has been restored and now houses the National Brewery Museum and Library.