Every time Pieter Kors and his wife motored past the little neglected church on the hill, they would frown and make comments like, “Somebody ought to do something about that … somebody ought to take care of it … somebody should step up.”
But nobody did.
That was several years ago.
Now, when the 89-year-old Kors and his wife, Wonja Hahn, pass by the polished and pretty little church on the hill, they smile and admire the beauty of the building and, especially, the colorful and modern stained-glass windows.
It wasn’t easy to resurrect the little Catholic church in Río Oro, in the thriving community of Santa Ana, southwest of San José. The building was intact a couple of years ago, but it and the grounds had been neglected for a long time. The blue trim and once stark-white paint were peeling, and dirty windows stood uninvitingly behind iron bars that were “just plain ugly,” according to Kors. The grounds were unkempt, the shrubs were ragged, and the concrete walkways were moldy. Inside, the place was filthy, the plumbing didn’t work, and the kitchen was … well, you get the idea.
“It wasn’t because people didn’t care,” Kors said. “The people wanted to use the church, but it was in no shape. The people had no money for maintenance.”
Kors, a psychiatrist from the northeastern United States, said the idea of a “startlingly neglected church building in Santa Ana was ridiculous.”
“All people need a place to meditate, and I wanted the church open for the people,” he added.
So, about two and a half years ago, Kors set about putting the church in order himself.
A celebrated sculptor in New York City in the 1970s, Kors began by designing a couple of stained-glass windows to present to the small congregation for approval. He got an enthusiastic thumbs-up. That was the beginning of a two-year renovation project that culminated six months ago with the reopening of a very attractive church building on manicured grounds.
Kors, who describes himself as “spiritual, not religious,” spent untold hours at the drawing board, creating windows with a “Noah’s Ark” theme, because Kors insists it is relevant in today’s world, which he describes as “materialistic and sinful.”
“We are repeating the same mistakes,” he said. “You cannot buy happiness with money. Every person needs to try to fulfill their own fantasies and desires in their own way without falling victim to materialism.”
The Dutch-born doctor and sculptor, who was associated with New York City’s ColumbiaUniversity for 30 years and was a locum tenens (stand-in) psychiatrist on call in 10 different states, spent an average of twomonths on each window, from start to finish.
He took his designs to a shop in the western suburb of Escazú for fabrication, had new window frames built and got rid of those “awful, ugly verjas (bars).”
And the people were pleased.
Each of the 10 modernistic and colorful stained-glass windows that grace the walls of the large sanctuary tells a Bible story, with the book and verses etched at the bottom of the windows. For instance, one tells the story of the creation of the universe, and another the creation of planet Earth. One shows creation and symbiosis, and another tells of procreation.
Adam and Eve are the subjects of two windows – in the Garden of Eden and being banished from the garden. And, of course, there is Noah’s Ark – entering the ark and then leaving the ark after the flood. Another window treats the theme of the circle of life.
All of the windows are stunning.
Kors also hired professionals to clean the building, effect repairs and paint the church inside and outside. And members of the congregation have taken an interest, too, helping to care for the building and adding personal touches.
“It took two years, but the kitchen, bathroom, bell tower, doors, sidewalks, grounds – everything got attention,” said Kors, adding that he is “extremely pleased” with the result.
“What a noble idea my husband had for the people,” said his petite, energetic and supportive wife, who also is a psychiatrist.
That idea extends to the future, also, as Kors hopes the little church will open its doors not just for Mass and prayer nights but to all people in need of a respite.
“I see the functioning of the church not so much as a Catholic issue where the church performs rituals,” he said, “but as a building where people seek sanctuary from the overwhelming noise of the consumer world, where money is the central issue and concern.”
Kors said he would like the little church to be open, with proper voluntary supervision, on weekends for all as a “sanctuary for escape … for meditation, reflection and self-awareness.”
The argument that drug addicts and other asocial people will wreak havoc at the church isn’t justified, he insisted, “because, basically, there is nothing to steal.”
At the moment, however, the little church on the hill in Río Oro is proud, pretty and inviting, but usually locked.
The building is west of downtown Santa Ana on the road to Piedades, on the left-hand side.