Caretaker Serves As 1-Man Renovation Crew For Historic Columbus Church

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A recent Christmas concert at St. Leo in Merion Village might never have happened because at one time, the church’s very existence was in jeopardy.

“We were worried that it would meet the wrecking ball,” said Lori Mitchell, President of the St. Leo Preservation Society.

The Diocese had closed the south side parish.

Michael Wolf says it was his job to keep his beloved church safe until its end -- an end that didn’t come.

“One year led to two, two to three, nothing happened and I decided to fix the place up and not let it go to pieces,” explained Wolf.

Michael turned into a one man renovation machine. He started with exterior work and then focused on the inside. He’s at the church every day, working on everything from plaster to pews.

“So, St. Leo’s is like your child,” 10TV’s Kristyn Hartman asked.

“Yes it is. It's a big baby...a very big question about it,” said Michael.

“We actually call him St. Michael, the arc angel sometimes, and then when he was painting - we called him Michelangelo,” Lori said with a laugh.

He worked on scaffolding to put ornate stenciling on the ceiling. One window would take eight hours. Mike’s mission was to preserve the historic character of the church to respect the craftsmen of long ago. That attention to detail went all the way down to the pipes in the 1924 organ.

All of the work took money. Some of it was Mike’s, and much of it was from donations from a community interested in giving the neighborhood fixture a longer life. They pooled the funds just like original parishioners did when St. Leo’s was built in 1915.

“I love this place because my family is in this place. They're founding members,” said Lori.

It’s that heart that keeps bringing people back home to St. Leo including a man who was baptized here in 1938.

“This guy was in tears when he walked through the place.  He couldn't believe it. His childhood was here, and he had the opportunity to come back here and that means a lot to me,” explained Michael.

Honoring the past is one reason Michael gives back during his retirement. He also believes working on St. Leo is a gift to the future.

“The old architecture and stuff, you can't replace this stuff. It would cost you a fortune to replace this. That's why preserving it and making it last for the next generation is important to me. Hopefully the next guy will take care of it the same, and I hope that guy steps up some day, ‘cause I'm getting old…”