Rising out of a farm field in northern Lake County is a sand-colored edifice that inspires more than double takes.
If the Renaissance-style building facing Route 45 in Old Mill Creek was not so big, one might dismiss it as a mirage. But there is no denying the presence of the new St. Raphael the Archangel Catholic Church, an ambitious combination of venerable elements from long-gone churches in a new package.
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"What you see here is nothing," the Rev. John Jamnicky, pastor of the newest parish in the Archdiocese of Chicago, says with a nod to the imposing limestone facade that soars some 60 feet.
"When the steeples go up, it's another 80 feet," he said. "This church will be the tallest structure in Lake County."
That may be awhile, as the steeples are stored on what someday will be a parking lot and there is no telling when they will be erected.
But there has been progress since twin cornerstones, representing the past and future, were put in place Sept. 29, 2010. Supporters describe the project as a one-of-a-kind marriage of old and new, one they hope becomes a model for other dioceses.
With the facade of St. John of God Church outside and wood carvings, pews, altars, statuary and museum-quality stained glass from St. Peter Canisius Church inside, the plan is to create a cultural center and a place of worship.
Both were Chicago neighborhood churches. St. John on the South Side closed in 1992 and was demolished. St. Canisius in the North Side Austin neighborhood closed in 2007.
Inspiration at St. Raphael, the patron of travelers, is envisioned coming not only from faith, but also from architecture, art and music.
"We're hoping and praying people will support the concept," Jamnicky said. "This will be a destination place. There won't be anything like this around."
The cause of celebration at St. Raphael's is the recent completion of the first of three parts of its $15 million construction program. A free public event featuring tours, music and exhibits of planned architectural features is set for 2 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, June 23, on the new church grounds at 40000 N. Route 45.
Today, the building shell, fronted by the nearly century-old facade of St. John of God, is complete but the inside is unfinished.
Church offices have moved to the new location but services continue to be offered in what Jamnicky describes as "a little country church" in a converted machine shop on a farm about two miles away on Route 173.
"We have occupancy but it's not functional," said Jamnicky, who in 2006 was called by Francis Cardinal George from his position on staff of the United States Conference of Bishops in Washington D.C., to establish a new church in northern Lake County.
"I need to raise $400,000 to $500,000 so we can start using it," he said of the new location.
According to the Archdiocese, it's not unusual for artifacts and furnishings from closed churches to be incorporated in new ones. However, no recent projects have included relocating the facade of another church.
The idea of doing that with St. John percolated after Cardinal George officially opened St. Raphael's Parish at the temporary quarters in 2007.
"We had places that were closing down, they're beautiful, magnificent things," Jamnicky said of an emerging vision. "Why not utilize the things that are not used?" About a year and a half later, Jamnicky got the go-ahead from the Cardinal to see what was possible with St. John.
A study showed it wasn't feasible to use the entire church but the facade was fair game, said Jamnicky. It was dismantled piece by piece, trucked to an old dairy farm on Route 45 at Kelly Road and reassembled at a cost of $2 million.
St. John's huge cornerstone was cut in half to provide St. Raphael's with two. One bears the date 1918 in Roman numerals and an inscription in Latin meaning: "Built for the greater honor and glory of God." The other is inscribed for the new church.
Wall sconces from St. Peter Canisius, built in the 1930s, are among the salvaged items to be installed inside.
"You can't have stuff like this today," Jamnicky said. "Nobody can afford it."
That quality also is evident in the nearly two dozen, 11-foot tall paneled doors that Jamnicky said would cost $15,000 each.
Tyrolean stained-glass windows, imported from Austria for St. Peter, also have been restored and reclaimed for St. Raphael. They will be paired with new creations from Savoy Studios in Portland, Ore.
The cavernous building, punctuated by a 60-foot tall arched ceiling, will have seating for 900 but can be expanded to 1,600. The parish currently is comprised of about 650 families.
"We're going to double in size in membership once we open the new church," Jamnicky predicted.
The anticipated centerpiece will be the eventual renovation and installation of an enormous 1915 Austin Pipe Organ, whose largest pipes are 42 feet long.
Once housed in the former Medinah Temple in Chicago and acquired out of storage for St. Raphael, the pieces are in six sealed containers behind the new church.
That undertaking will be a separate project that could cost an estimated $1.5 million.
Finishing the interior and landscaping the exterior is the next step. Installing the tops of the 140-foot towers, which will house 11,000 pounds of reclaimed bells and two colonnades, would wrap up construction as Phase 3.
"It will almost be like embracing arms," Jamnicky said.