Family’s gift lights up Burlington church

The front and steeple of St. John the Baptist Church in Burlington are lit by eight pulse-start metal Hallide technology lights installed last month. (Photo courtesy of John Lovretta/The Hawk Eye)

By Celine Klosterman

BURLINGTON — Drivers entering Burlington can spot the steeple of St. John the Baptist Church from miles away. 

“When you see it, you know you’re coming home,” said Lorraine Kelso, a member of Ss. John & Paul Parish in Burlington.

Now, nighttime travelers can see it even better. Eight high-efficiency spotlights were installed outside the church last month as a gift from a nine-year-old memorial fund created by the family of Wayne Kelso, Lorraine’s late husband. The lights were turned on during a ceremony May 29 and will illuminate the 150-foot-tall steeple from several angles from dusk to midnight year-round.

“The church has really been a focal point for our family,” said John Kelso, Lorraine and Wayne’s son, who led efforts to have the lights installed. “It’s a very handsome building and central to Burlington. The lights really help to show that prominence.”


Contributing financially to the lighting project in honor of their parents were he and his sisters, Mary Lee Stevenson and Ann Marie Japsen of Ss. John & Paul Parish and Joanie Sturms of Keokuk.  A non-parish fund will cover the electric bill for the lights, which John estimated will be $750 to $1,000 annually.

Lorraine and John said inspiration came from seeing lights outside St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha, a parish at which John was once a finance board member. “I told my son, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful to light St. John’s?’” Lorraine recalled.

“This is something we’ve wanted to do for a long time,” John said.

“Wayne would’ve been so pleased,” Lorraine added.

The couple served as lectors, eucharistic ministers and choir members at St. John the Baptist Parish, to which Wayne belonged from birth until the parish merged with St. Paul’s in Burlington in 1998. He died in 2001. And though John now lives in Connecticut, he still considers himself a member of Ss. John & Paul.

The Kelsos “are a very dedicated family and have a great love for the Church at large and St. John the Baptist Church,” said Father Patrick Hilgendorf, pastor of Ss. John & Paul Parish.

“I have seen the steeple from many vantage points and it is just beautiful,” he said. “People from the parish and community have commented on how impressive it looks at night.”

A Catholic couple is considering donating funds to light the steeple of St. Paul Church, too, said parishioner Gretchen Miller. She belongs to a Downtown Partners Inc. committee in Burlington that’s working to light the steeples and spires of other public and private buildings in the city.

But for now, Lorraine is happy just to see St. John the Baptist illuminated. “It’s a beautiful tribute from my family,” she said.

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