'Labor of love': Painters use 'old-world' techniques to brighten up Cambria City church

Feb. 3—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Albert Ghantous and his Elias Painting crew are using art techniques passed down from his father, a Lebanese immigrant, to restore and enhance what he called the "old-world grandiose appeal" of Resurrection Roman Catholic Church.

Their work started in January.

New paint will be applied, plaster will be repaired and statues will be touched up over a five-month period, along with other work, including the installation of new energy-efficient lights and cleaning of windows inside the historic church in Johnstown's Cambria City neighborhood.

"Church restorations are our forte, and not just for me being a labor of love, but for my employees, my crew," said Ghantous, owner of Elias Painting, named for his father, Elias Ghantous. "This is a labor of love for them to be able to beautify the house of God the way we do. My father brought this over from the old country. This is old-world craftsmanship that we're doing that he brought over and taught us. He taught me. I teach the guys. It's a handed-down skill that's been generational in our family. That labor of love is evident in our work."

Ghantous emphasized the importance of small details, such as using the proper colors to represent Heaven and Earth.

"We're re-gilding a lot of the areas and changing the scheme to make everything pop," he said. "We're also using liturgically correct colors, colors that are appropriate for the Catholic Church, which I spent a lot of time figuring that out, a lot of years studying that to figure out exactly what's appropriate."

Ghantous said he wants people to be "looking up in awe at what they see" when they return to the church.

The Rev. George Gulash, pastor of Resurrection Parish, said there was no major damage to the structure, but it was time to refresh the interior of the building, which was built in the early 1900s.

"I should look so good at a hundred years," Gulash quipped.

Resurrection is located in the former St. Stephen's Church. It was selected as the home of the new Catholic parish created when Cambria City's parishes merged in 2009. Almost 500 families are members of the parish.

"Resurrection Parish is the heart of the Cambria City neighborhood, and the church building is the spiritual home where many local Catholics gather to deepen their relationship with the Lord through the sacraments and prayer," said Tony DeGol, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown's communications secretary.

"It is remarkable to think of the generations of families who have passed through that site and cherished its sacred beauty as they experienced many wonderful encounters with Christ. This preservation happening now will ensure an even richer spiritual environment for current parishioners and future generations."

Ghantous and Gulash hope the work will be complete and the church will be open again by Memorial Day. Until then, members of the congregation will continue to worship at Resurrection's sister church, St. Clare of Assisi, located at 124 Maple Ave. in the city's Woodvale neighborhood.

"It's very fine, very fine," said Gulash, who also takes care of the St. Clare parish. "It's the same people, but just a different building, and actually the parishes are working very well together."

The current Mass schedule at St. Clare is 6:30 p.m. Monday; 8 a.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; 4 p.m. Saturday; and 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Sunday.