Family of woodworkers created structures in Swormville parish

by KIMBERLEE SABSHIN
Wed, Jan 25th 2017 09:25 am
Staff Reporter
Donna Allan stands with her father, master woodworker Donald Herberger, who built this altar as well as the lecturn and tabernacle stand at St. Mary Parish in Swormville. (Dan Cappellazzo/Staff Photographer)
Donna Allan stands with her father, master woodworker Donald Herberger, who built this altar as well as the lecturn and tabernacle stand at St. Mary Parish in Swormville. (Dan Cappellazzo/Staff Photographer)

At St. Mary Parish in Swormville, three members of one family have produced much of the woodwork within the church, using their craftsmanship to update the décor while preserving the beauty of the interior. Donna Allan, an employee of the parish, noted last month that two of her family members built the altar, ambo, tabernacle stand, while her husband made the confessional and processional cross St. Mary's uses.

Donald and Daniel Herberger, Donna Allan's father and brother, and her husband, Jeff Allan, made the structures inside the new church, which opened in 2010. Donald also crafted the altar of the chapel, the "old church," in the 1980s. Donald, now retired, was a trim carpenter, and Daniel, who lives in Rochester and works for a furniture maker in that area, went to school for art and majored in woodworking.

"The altar in the old church - we call it the chapel now - but in the old church, my father made that as well. That was, I want to say it was in the late '80s," Donna Allan said. "We decided we needed a new altar, and so he made that one. When it came time to looking at furnishings in the new church, it was just kind of a given. It was one of the things we thought, we wanted to be able to get parishioners involved in certain aspects of the new church, and the committee thought we would go that route, and that's what we did."

Jeffrey Herberger, another of Donald's sons who was an art director for an advertising agency, drew up designs for the church committee to review. After it chose a design, it gave that rendering to the building's architect, who created the plans for the altar. They knew they wanted a matching ambo, but they were not sure what they wanted to do for the tabernacle. The rest of Donna's brothers, of whom there are five total, wanted to participate, so the siblings paid for the lumber that was used in the three pieces of the altar.

After some deliberation regarding this matter, the metal part of the tabernacle was taken from one of the churches in the diocese that closed, St. Valentine. "It was in a basement somewhere. We found that through Mike Sullivan, the director of buildings and properties in the diocese," Allan continued. We got the box, the tabernacle, and then the architects designed a piece that the tabernacle would fit inside."

All of the pieces were coordinated with the same African mahogany wood. Donald Herberger's daughter felt that as he was working, he put a great deal of thought into his faith, since her father is a devout Catholic who had lived a few houses down Stahley Road from St. Mary's his entire life. "I'm sure this was very close to his heart as he was building the altar, just being a part of St. Mary's," she commented.

The most recent altar at St. Mary's was made specifically for the dedication of the parish's new church in 2010, and Donald Herberger was chosen to create the new altar as well with his son, Daniel. "My brother, with his background in woodworking as well, they did it together, and it was really a labor of love. They did a wonderful job," Allan continued. "My husband actually made the processional cross."

Jeff Allan is not a professional woodcrafter by trade, but he enjoys working with wood as a hobby, so he volunteered to create the confessionals and processional cross. The couple had looked into different confessional designs before choosing the one that is currently at St. Mary's. They later ordered the corpus for the processional cross from Italy, and Jeff Allan created the wooden part of the structure. The goal of using the wood in the new church was to go with a "warm" feeling by choosing this instead of stone.

"That was done in 2010, for the opening of the new church," Allan said of the pieces her husband made. "For me, it just makes it very special that I can look at the altar and know that my family had a part in designing and making that, and knowing that it will be part of the church's history for a long time, kind of my family's legacy to the parish. It's such a beautiful piece. So many people have commented on how gorgeous it is, and it just makes worship special when you have such beautiful artwork surrounding you."  

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