By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published October 9, 2008
Evening Mass captured the light of the sun fading through the windows of St. Ann Church and the reenergized light of a community re-gathering inside the parish’s renovated sanctuary.
After a year of celebrating Mass in temporary worship spaces with folding chairs, hundreds of parishioners took their places in new pews Sept. 23 as Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory celebrated the first Mass in the renovated church.
The smiles alone of the parishioners were enough to brighten the gathering space as they entered beneath a large “Welcome Home” banner. The preceding 12 months were full of anticipation and sacrifices as they watched construction crews tear apart the old and erect the new.
During the Mass, following a beautifully sung Litany of the Saints, Archbishop Gregory, LaSalette Father Tom Reilly, pastor, and other priests took the flame from one candle and spread light throughout the new church as they lit the altar and other candles for the first time.
A variety of factors went into the community’s decision to pursue the $5 million project. A questionnaire given to members of the 4,000-family parish a few years ago to gauge what was important to them said that a facelift to the church, dedicated in 1981, was among the top issues the parish wanted to address.
The pews were in tough shape, the wall covering had not been touched in 30 years and the sanctuary was dark, according to Father Reilly.
A capital campaign began in February 2006. According to Father Reilly, the campaign went “very well” and St. Ann “didn’t spend one penny more than what we raised.” Nearly $6.5 million was pledged by parishioners, which covered the cost of the renovation.
During his homily, the archbishop spoke about the importance of this moment in the community’s life. The house of the parish should reflect the faith of the people who worship inside of it, he said.
“‘Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?’ That indeed is the identity of this assembly and of every assembly of those who belong to Christ through baptism. It is that identity that ought to be reflected in the newly renovated house of the church,” Archbishop Gregory said during his homily.
“Our own Christian dignity is the image that must be mirrored in every church,” he continued. “Architecture, style, designs belong to the area of taste. Yet the image of every church must somehow call to mind the dignity and the reflection of the Christian people who gather therein for worship, for community life and for quiet prayer.”
Archbishop Gregory also took a moment to thank all those who had a part in the ambitious project, from the “craftsmen who designed and executed this renewal” to the people of St. Ann who “endured the inconvenience of a renovation project.”
“Finally, I thank Father Tom whose patient pastoral skill helped to realize this effort. There is hardly a more controversial undertaking in a parish’s life than the renovation or building of a church. Pastors often avoid such a project like the plague because they know how vexing it can be,” Archbishop Gregory said to a fit of laughter and applause.
“I thank Father Reilly for his willingness to lead this community in this effort and to do so obviously with such success.”
Following the homily, Archbishop Gregory took holy chrism and slathered the new altar as Father Reilly and other concelebrants dispersed throughout the sanctuary to anoint the walls and bless the church.
“This is exciting, thrilling,” said Teena Kay, an employee at St. Ann’s and parishioner of nine years.
Jim Glennon and his wife, Jeanice, have been members for 29 years at the 30-year-old parish, and have seen the transformation of the church over the last several decades. Glennon recalled the difficulties of the past year, describing the Masses that were held in the gym and Nolan Hall, the parish’s social gathering space.
“But everybody has continued to come,” Glennon said with a smile.
The couple has lived in several places and attended churches throughout the country, from Delaware to Texas, and they have come to love the St. Ann community above all.
“The church is the most active we have seen in the country,” Glennon said. “We have had some great leaders at this parish and … things just continue to churn along.”
“We had a real concern early on,” said Jack Busche, chair of the St. Ann building committee, referring to the certain inconvenience that parishioners would have to suffer through as the church was renovated.
But, according to Busche, who has been a parishioner since 1992 and currently serves as the ministries coordinator, the parishioners were “fantastic.” Aiding in the process was the parish’s operations department who spent countless hours setting up and breaking down the gym and Nolan Hall for Masses, wedding receptions and other events held on the church grounds, which made the process run much more smoothly, said Busche.
The general contractor, Cork-Howard Construction Co., was also supportive during the process and was “more than willing” to accommodate parish events during the renovation, said Busche.
Father Reilly took a moment at the end of the Mass to thank those involved with the large renovation project. He handed awards to the general contractor and to the architectural firm, the Sizemore Group, which led the community through such an important transformation.
Members of the building committee were also honored as Busche approached the altar to receive an award and hug from his pastor.
“Welcome. We are back in our home, and I am so grateful,” Father Reilly told the assembly.
“No more folding chairs. We should have had a ceremonial burning of one tonight,” he joked as the congregation let out a hearty laugh.
Father Reilly also thanked the archbishop for being present at this special moment.
“On a scale of one to ten, Archbishop Gregory is a 12,” he said. The crowd responded with a standing ovation and the archbishop humbly smiled and bowed his head in gratitude.
The congregants visited with each other after the Mass and then moved into Nolan Hall to continue their fellowship and enjoy some treats.
Beautiful floral arrangements accented the tables, which offered a plentiful array of sweets, including cake, brownies, lemon squares and cheesecake.
“It is a wonderful welcoming of us back home,” said Kay.
From the moment one pulls into the parking lot at St. Ann Church, a noticeable difference can be seen. Colorful landscaping surrounds the new entrance, which is highlighted by a statue of St. Ann with Mary as a small child.
Two new spires on either side of the main doors reach up to the sky. With the original spire on the church, the three are now a reminder of the Trinity. The new steeples also express the bringing together of the two traditions, Eastern and Western, of the Catholic Church.
Between the steeples and above the main doors, a circular glass window representing the Eucharist, which appears elevated by a chalice, also made of glass, brings to mind the pinnacle of the Catholic faith.
Once through the main doors, a spacious narthex provides ample gathering space. Two new staircases allow access to the balcony and are carpeted to reduce the noise of people traveling up and down the steps.
Sunlight now permeates every nook and cranny of the nave, and a beautiful crucifix, handmade by Demetz Art Studio in Ortisei, Italy, hangs behind the altar on a slab of Ming green marble, cut to highlight the shape of the cross.
To the left of the altar is the baptismal font, designed by architect and building committee member Bill de St. Aubin, which was built in Italy and is covered in a white Venetian mosaic. The font is continuously filled with water that overflows into its outer bowl.
The renovation also included a vesting sacristy and a cry room/bride’s room off the narthex. A room for ministers of hospitality and a reconciliation room complete the renovation project, supplying every need of the growing parish.
While the preceding year may have been an inconvenience, it helped the parishioners of St. Ann Church appreciate all the additions and renovations they are sure to enjoy for years to come.
“God bless you and welcome home,” Father Reilly told the applauding crowd at the end of the Mass.
The community continued the celebration the following Sunday, Sept. 28, as they gathered for a parish festival to officially celebrate the reopening of the church and the parish’s 30-year anniversary.