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St. Aloysius to brighten night sky

LED bulbs enable church to light up spires

For the first time in more than a decade, the twin spires atop St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church will illuminate the Spokane skyline.

New wiring and energy-efficient LED bulbs have recently been installed to replace the rusty porcelain sockets and incandescent bulbs that quickly burned out and were difficult to replace. For years, priests and others who worked at the parish had to risk their lives just to change the bulbs.

“It was very dangerous,” said Karen Oldmixon, the parish bookkeeper and a member of a committee to restore and preserve the near century-old church. In recent years, “we couldn’t get anybody who really wanted to go up there to do it for us.”

Ater today’s 5:15 p.m. Mass, members of St. Al’s plan to gather outside the adapted Romanesque-style church to be part of a cross-lighting and blessing ceremony. During the event, two Jesuit priests – the Rev. Dick Case and the Rev. Charles Barnes – will be lifted 165 feet up in a basket attached to a crane to say a prayer and sprinkle holy water upon each cross.

After Saturday, the parish plans to keep the lights on every night. Located on the campus of Gonzaga University, St. Al’s distinctive spires can be seen from vantage points throughout the city.

For many years, priests at St. Aloysius had to summon all their courage to replace a burned-out bulb. After climbing the long, narrow staircase leading up to the belltower, they would have to enter a trap door to get inside the spire itself, Oldmixon explained. From there, they would go through another door and then stand on a platform suspended by chains. This would allow them to climb a metal ladder attached to the spire in order to reach the light sockets.

It’s unclear when the spires’ lights were first installed, Oldmixon said, but they were used sporadically over the decades. In more recent years, the church could only light them for a few hours at a time on special occasions such as Christmas. The bad wiring also posed a fire hazard, she said.

St. Aloysius once hired an experienced climber, who used cables and harnesses to change the bulbs, Oldmixon recalled. But parish members decided they needed to come up with a more permanent solution.

“It just wasn’t safe to be screwing the bulbs in anymore,” Oldmixon said.

Now, the new wiring and energy-efficient bulbs will allow the parish to keep the lights on every night from dusk until dawn. They won’t need to be replaced for 10 years, Oldmixon said.

People from throughout the city are expected to attend the event on Saturday.

A Spokane landmark, St. Aloysius church was built in two years and dedicated Oct. 12, 1911. According to its Web site, it has a seating capacity of 1,100 – the largest among Catholic churches in Spokane. With its rounded arches, stained glass windows and oak woodwork, the church receives thousands of visitors and tourists each year.

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