SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW
Saturday night was a long-awaited moment in the life of Holy Family parish, St. Petersburg. After a little more than seven months worshipping in a woefully small parish hall with over-flow Masses in the school cafeteria, the great people of Holy Family returned to their Church and found it amazingly remodeled into a beautiful, new house of worship. Begun in 1956 as a parish, and after first worshipping at Northeast High School, then their temporary Church which is now the parish hall, a large fan-shape church was dedicated an altar consecrated on October 7, 1984. I am sure that the parish welcomed and were proud of that building which represented their dreams and sacrifices over twenty-seven years. The sanctuary was very, very small and the Church itself was very dark. Time was not kind to that building and in recent years termites, broken and dangerous pews, a near-defunct mechanical (heating and air-conditioning) system and a veritable laundry list of other material challenges presented themselves to the parish for prayerful reflection and decision.
Significant consultation preceded the formation of a Steering Committee to guide the development of a plan for remodeling the Church. A capital campaign was launched but approximately one million and indeed the first million was spent on bringing the school up to code, replacing windows whose frames left wide gaps with the structural walls, and new bathrooms for the children quite appropriately had to be responded to first. The Church could wait until the children were guaranteed a safe building in which to study. Over the last year and a half, the parish under the leadership of their pastor, began to flesh out the dream of a remodeled worship space. What they saw on Saturday night and what I blessed and the new altar I consecrated were both astonishingly beautiful and amazingly simple in design. The Church was made brighter by a new lighting system, its internal walls were removed and replaced, the sanctuary was brought out so that the priest could be seen by everyone in the Church. New pews replaced the dangerously deteriorating, termite infested old pews. A new tile surface was placed on the floor under the congregation and a beautiful tile used in the sanctuary. A new ambo from which the Liturgy of the Word is proclaimed was installed resembling a “table of the word” and it can hydraulically be raised and lowered for a child who serves as lector or a wheel-chair bound person who can now gain access to the sanctuary by a much-needed ramp. There are shrines to the saints, icons to be placed, the artwork of the previous building was preserved and moved to places where it is much more accessible and prayerful, and the stations of the cross lowered and discreetly lit. A new organ and grand piano grace the space. But to me the most stunning new addition is exactly what it should be, the main altar. Made of natural stone, steel and wood, it can not be mistaken for anything but a table where the Eucharist is celebrated and from which we are fed the bread of life and the blood of Christ. Weighing exactly one ton, the new altar in almost any other space would seem to be out of proportion to the environment but in the remodeled Holy Family, it catches one’s eye and you know you are to be invited to and fed from the table of the Lord. There is no ornamentation, just granite, steel and wood triangulating to suggest what an altar should be – a table.
On the Wednesday night last week which was the Holy Day (Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception) I celebrated the seven p.m. Mass in the parish hall with about two-hundred people. While we were praying some one was leafletting the cars in the parking lot warning against the coming abomination of Holy Family Church. Our diocese’s liturgical Thomas Paine (of course, they choose to remain anonymous) railed against the moving of the tabernacle at Holy Family and lots of other things he/she does not like about myself or the diocese or the Universal Church today. The tabernacle is exactly where it was in the former building prior to renovation, beautifully illuminated, and elevated for all to see. I doubt if Father Tapp, Father Mangiafico, and the people of Holy Family will see a “correction” or “Apology” on their windshield anytime soon.
It doesn’t matter. When the lights came on during the ceremony lighting up the darkness of an Advent Saturday Vigil Mass, there was an audible gasp as how beautiful their new worship space is and a strong sense of pride at what they had accomplished. From where I sit, I can say without fear of contradiction, that led by Father Tapp and his Steering Committee, the parish received a lot of “bang for the buck” using the same building as before but restoring it to a beauty that will last far longer than that which went before it. Congratulations Holy Family for a vision well executed and a dream for many come true.
If you want to watch the video series which Holy Family had on their website throughout the renovation, you can view them on YouTube. If you are interested, here is a PDF copy of my homily. Here are some more photos from that evening.