In time for Nevada’s 150th anniversary of statehood, a historic Austin church building is the center of another celebration.

St. Augustine’s Catholic Church building, standing on a hill at 113 Virginia St., in the central Nevada town, has been closed for years, but it’s beginning a new life as a cultural center for the community.

A reopening celebration is scheduled for Saturday.

Restoration took 10 years and more than a million dollars, mostly from grants from the Nevada Commission for Cultural Affairs.

“As far as adaptive reuse of the building, it’s really made possible by the state Commission for Cultural Affairs,” said Peter Dube of Reno, the historical architect for the project. “They give grants for historic structures — non-profits — used for cultural centers.”

Jan Morrison, the chairman of the non-profit that owns the building, bought the church from the Catholic Diocese of Reno several years ago. She created the non-profit organization, Dube said, and deeded the building to the organization.

The rehabilitation includes a lower-level meeting space with Americans with Disabilities Act access and a restaurant, Dube said.

Over the years, the building was painted, the roof was replaced along with a retaining wall and windows.

Original murals by Raphael Jolly were preserved and the Kilgen pipe organ was refurbished.

When the church closed years ago it was a blow to the community, Dube said. There were other churches, but St. Augustine’s stands on a prominent hill.

“So the town is pretty excited to have it open,” he said.

The first Roman Catholic church built in Nevada was St. Mary’s in the Mountains in 1860, but the wooden structure collapsed under heavy winds that first winter, according the church website. St. Mary’s parish was established in 1862. A brick church built in 1868 burned in 1875. It was rebuilt the next year.

St. Augustine’s parish was established on Oct. 16, 1865, said Brother Matthew Cunningham, former Diocese of Reno administrator.

The church dates from 1866, making it the oldest surviving Catholic church building in Nevada, Dube said.

“That church did not have a resident pastor for 50 or 60 years,” Cunningham said. “It was served from Fallon or Battle Mountain. Sometimes it was under the care of the pastor from Eureka. There were so few people there that it could not support a priest.”

The diocese couldn’t raise funds to maintain it, and the foundation and roof deteriorated.

“It was not safe for people to use,” Cunningham said. The diocese “decided to sell it… We removed all the articles in 2000. It was not a parish at that point; it was a mission station.”

A fire on Nov. 22, 1880, damaged St. Augustine’s, Dube’ said. Workers found evidence of the fire during restoration. But the building was never destroyed.

“Austin never got too decimated by fires, unlike Virginia City,” he said. “There has always been a population … There was always a core group. They looked out for the town.”

St. Augustine’s has its historic high points. Opera singer Emma Nevada received her first communion and sang at the church, according to the Nevada 150 web site. The Henry Kilgen pipe organic is a historic relic. And in the late 1930s, Lake Tahoe artist Raphael Jolly painted 14 murals on the interior walls.

The church, which cost $50,000 to build, is built into the hillside on granite, the 150 website says, with bricks and granite from the Austin quarry and brickyard that flourished in the 1800s. Its spire is 75 feet high.


Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal,