“NEW WINE” DOES FIT IN “OLD WINESKINS”
So far for the last several years I have had the great joy during the Advent season to consecrate new altars in two churches which badly needed and have undergone very serious remodeling. A year ago December it was Holy Family parish in northeast St. Petersburg and this year it was St. Jerome parish church in Indian Rocks Beach. The good parishioners had been worshipping for forty years in a Church which was unique in the diocese, basically a pyramid. Inside there were no main entrances to the space, a steeply sloped floor (caskets needed special brakes!), an initial color scheme which might once have been stunning but through the years became a point of some humor, and a section for the choir that might as well have been right in the sanctuary. St. Jerome’s has one of the best choirs in the diocese under the longtime direction of Tom Kurt and it is quite large so any new design had to accommodate this wonderful reality. Seating about a thousand people with a daily Mass chapel which remained open twenty-four hours each day for private Eucharistic adoration, the old and original St. Jerome’s satisfied many. There had been one remodel of the sanctuary since its original opening but little else had been done for the main worship space.
A few years ago the pastor, Monsignor Brendan Muldoon carefully began to raise with the congregation the possibility of an updating of the space. There were few weddings held at St. Jerome’s because there was no middle aisle for a bride to march down. There was no access to the sanctuary for the physically challenged to proclaim the readings or serve as Eucharistic ministers, the pews were getting dangerously old and the carpet and seat cushions desperately needed replacement and soon. Additionally, there was no main entrance and gathering space where during the rain people could be dropped off or picked up, a casket could be taken from or placed into a hearse in inclement weather, and the carpet was both threadbare and coming up (I myself a few years ago recklessly swinging an incense thurible burned a hole in the carpet in front of the main altar). So slowly and painstakingly Monsignor Muldoon with the support of a few parishioners began to make his case for a total re-do. The end product is nothing short of a spectacular transition from what was to what now is. Under the able direction of Christine Reinhardt, a liturgical consultant, and Nelson Griffin a local architect, plans were slowly drawn to level the floor, change the inner axis of the Church by relocating the sanctuary, creating a gathering space and a true main entrance from the outside which was weather resistant, creating a smaller twenty-four hour a day adoration chapel behind and visible from the main apse of the Church, and a new altar, ambo, and baptismal font.
On December 17th the parish gathered for the consecration of the new altar (since the exterior walls of the church remains unchanged, a full rite of dedication of a church was not called for). Standing at the main entrance at the conclusion of Mass, almost every parishioner was highly complimentary of their new worship space. Since with the exception of the new entrance/gathering space built for the moment, the rest of the Church contained the original “wineskins” of the original structure thus proving that “new wine” can be made to work. Congratulations were abundant to Monsignor Muldoon and all who worked with him on this multi-year project which was accomplished for about three million dollars. It will serve the community of St. Jerome’s for many years and encourage a fuller and more active participation in the Eucharistic Liturgy as envisioned by the Second Vatican Council. Everyone is now closer to the altar and can be more a part of the sacred action. That’s what a remodel project should be all about!