This story begins with a Catholic priest, Fr. Miles Walsh. Fr. Miles pays remarkably close attention to his church’s real estate, and especially the church itself. I know this because ever since I turned 18 and first became a bonafide technician, Fr. Miles’ account at the church of Our Lady of Mercy in Baton Rouge was one that I more or less supervised. Now here is something that I still have trouble trying to explain: I know that Fr. Miles wanted me to personally service his church—not that he would complain if someone else showed up—but when I would get there with my father, who was much more of a technician than I was at the time, Fr. Miles would confess his air conditioning troubles to me, sort of as though I was the only one in the room. I’ve come to realize since that time that I am something of a perfectionist when it comes to this trade, but I did not learn this about myself till later in life; somehow, I feel, Fr. Miles could see the perfectionist streak in me before I could, and that is why he was happy to see me servicing his facility. 

Years have gone by since those early days, and now Fr. Miles is the pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in the same city. I have been told that Sacred Heart replicates one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Sicily, where many of the founding members of the church came from almost a century ago. Let us just say the church appears priceless and is filled with extraordinary art! Until this year (2020), the church had a chilled water system, a system that was extremely noisy, and the controls’ integration was not the best at regulating humidity. The two aged chillers would occasion frequent “nuisance trips,” which would make Fr. Miles nervous about the prospect of upsetting his parishioners with a hot church. 

If you are asking yourself why he would be nervous, all you need do is follow him to the neighborhood grocery in the days after he had celebrated Mass for a congregation that had to sweat for an hour or so on Sunday. Literally, the man would not get out of the grocery store without having to explain to twenty or more parishioners that the aged air system in church was experiencing technical difficulties. He would have to listen to every one of them explain how maybe he should be looking for a new service company or use their cousin who does air conditioning on the side. If you ever wonder why you don’t see a priest out and about in uniform more often, maybe that will help explain why: they are literally a sounding board for everything that goes wrong in the parish, similar to the principal of a high-school. Sometimes they just want to clock out for a moment and relax. 

 The Relics of Padre Pio! The Relics of Padre Pio (who is an incredibly famous and beloved Italian saint) make their way around the globe for the faithful to venerate and see. Let us just say it is a big deal when those relics come to town! Sacred Heart of Jesus Church was chosen to display the relics two years ago. An important part if this story to know is that at the time, I had just opened a second branch of Hughes Mechanical an hour away from the original branch, which still takes care of Fr. Miles’ church; needless to say, I did not frequent Fr. Miles’ church as much as I had previously. Randomly one morning, I was driving to Baton Rouge to investigate something for my father. He was going to be late and advised me that I should kill some time while waiting for him. With a good hour or so to waste, I decided to stop in for a visit with my friend, Fr. Miles. 

As I pulled into the parking lot, I ran into the church’s maintenance director, who advised me that Fr. Miles was on edge. He went on to tell me about the big event with the Relics of Padre Pio, which was scheduled for the very next day. He knew that Fr. Miles and I were close, having spent so many professional years around each other, and he encouraged me to speak with him. I soon found Fr. Miles, and we ended up taking a short walk around the parking lot and the baseball field, which had just been renovated. I could tell he was nervous about the event, which was expected to draw 3000 people in the course of a single day. I asked him if I could do anything to set his mind at ease, and he responded that he would just be glad when the event was over, and he could relax. 

Knowing him and knowing how he is about the air in his church, I suggested it would be a good idea for us to have a mechanic on-site the next morning to ensure that the chiller came on-line before the event began and all the people started to show. Let’s just say I turned a frown upside down! He was excited to hear it, after which he asked if a would say a prayer with him, which we did. Not thinking too much of it, I left, because I had to see about the new job we were handling. But the maintenance director of the church called me about an hour after I left to offer me a word of praise. He said, “I’m not sure what you and Fr. Miles talked about, but he is as cool as a cucumber right now!” 

If you are reading this, you could say my going there that day was mere luck or chance, but I would like to think of it as a bit of divine intervention. 

I tell you this story because I want my fellow HVAC technicians to understand just how valuable you are in this world. You see, just because our uniform is not much better than a high-school dress code, it does not mean that we are not important to someone, maybe even Someone Upstairs! Every person needs someone they can depend on, and that someone is probably where they will go to find their “uncommon sanctuary.” 

 
Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Baton Rouge, LA 

   
The previous air-cooled chillers from the above story, now converted to VRV. 

 
Chris Hughes of Madisonville, Louisiana is a mechanical contractor, writer, HVAC enthusiast, and founder of Hughes Mechanical Contractors and The HVAC Grapevine. He also writes and hosts The HVAC Grapevine Podcast. You can follow him by joining his Facebook group or by subscribing to The HVAC Grapevine Podcast. For any questions, he may be reached at [email protected]

1 Comments

Andy H.

Date 12/1/2020

Great story Chris and wonderfully written! To all that read this....Chris is one of the most knowledgeable & dependable HVAC contractor I have encountered in 21 yrs of working in commercial construction. More importantly, one of the most sincere individuals I have had the pleasure of working with! #uncommonsanctuary

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