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Faithful worship at liturgy in renovated church
May 01, 2017
ISELIN — Bishop James F. Checchio served as presider for the Palm Sunday Vigil Mass at St. Cecelia Parish in order to mark an especially joyous occasion. On that afternoon, Bishop Checchio blessed the church’s newly designed sanctuary.
Awaiting the bishop’s arrival, dozens of altar servers wearing red cassocks and white surplices lined up and practiced their entrance while the choir rehearsed its songs. Parishioners arrived early, filled with excitement for this highly anticipated event. Bright sunbeams of colorful light shone through the church from three large stained-glass windows that surround the sanctuary. The crucifix, suspended from the vaulted wood beams of the ceiling, was illuminated by the stained glass window depicting the Risen Christ at the back of the sanctuary. The flickering prayer candles brought out the beauty of the statues of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph.
Four Vocationist priests concelebrated: Father Thomas Naduviledathu, pastor; his superior, Father Louis Caputo; and parochial vicars Father Vernon Kohlmann and Father Emeka Okwuosa. Deacons Richard Lutomski and Anthony Pepe assisted and Father Edmund A. Luciano III served as master of ceremonies. St. Cecelia Knights of Columbus provided an honor guard.
The vision of the parish’s new sanctuary began to form three years ago when Father Naduviledathu arrived at St. Cecelia. He said he noticed that when standing on the altar, the priests were higher than the tabernacle. “I was uncomfortable with that. I wanted everyone to see where Jesus is, to see where the tabernacle is in the church. The presence of Christ is what makes it a Catholic Church, so I thought that I should change this and bring the sanctuary to the center of the church.”
Father Naduviledathu also noticed that the statues of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph displayed on the sides of the sanctuary under the stained-glass windows were difficult to see because of the dark brick walls behind them. Since the new design elements of the sanctuary eliminated the storage space behind the altar, two wooden storage closets connected by a white wall were built on each side of the sanctuary. The statues of Mary and Joseph were then placed in front of the walls between the sets of closets and surrounded by prayer candles, making them highly visible.
Although it took almost two years to choose a designer and create and approve a final design, Father Naduviledathu said raising the money needed for the nearly $100,000 project took only two months because of the enthusiastic response from parishioners.
“In the first week of December, I displayed the sanctuary design next to a box with donation envelopes. By February 2, I had the money needed, thanks to donations received from over 300 people,” he said.
Eileen Neidenbach, a parishioner and volunteer for the parish gift shop, was not surprised the money was raised so quickly. “It was time. When Father Thomas became our pastor, I felt that positive changes were coming. I am grateful for the pastoral gifts that he and Father Vernon and Father Emeka give to our parish,” she said.
“It was truly a blessing and an honor to be present to witness the blessing of our new sanctuary by Bishop Checchio.”
Lucyna Barczak was the designer of the final design chosen for the sanctuary and her husband Andrzej Jaruszewicz was the contractor. Their family-owned company, Indecor Professional, Inc., of Passaic, provided the highly-skilled laborers for the project.
“The main idea was to create a design that would both enhance the stained-glass windows and make the tabernacle the central focus of the church,” Barczask said. “The tabernacle should be the most important thing in the church, but the original tabernacle was on the side of the altar. We changed that by building a large wooden structure made of oak below the stained-glass window at the back of the sanctuary and the tabernacle is set in its center within a niche.”
Surprisingly, the removal of the back wall of the sanctuary proved to be more difficult than expected. Made of solid concrete, the wall was expected to take two days to demolish, but it actually took more than a week. The altar itself was not changed and although the carpet on the floor around the altar was originally planned to remain intact, as the work progressed, it was decided that it should be taken up and replaced with oak flooring. Additionally, a little bit of lighting was added to the ceiling beams to brighten the sanctuary.
“The designer, contractor and workers are all very devoted Catholics and were all very committed to their work. Throughout the many weeks of construction there was no disruption of the weekend Masses because a curtain was used to cover the construction site, said Father Naduviledathu.
At the conclusion of the Mass, Father Naduviledathu said, “God is good, all the time. Thank God for our beautiful sanctuary.”
“Thank you, Bishop Checchio, for saying ‘go forward with my blessing’ and thank you for suggesting that the crucifix be suspended above the altar and the statue of St. Cecelia be placed on top of the tabernacle. She is on the way,” he continued, noting that the statue had not yet arrived.
He then thanked his superior, Father Caputo, and all those who contributed to the new sanctuary. “We made it. Thank you. We made it,” he said.
Father Naduviledathu thanked Barczak, Jaruszewicz and the employees of Indecor Professionals, Inc.; the liturgy group for organizing a dinner dance fundraiser, the parish council members for the generosity of their time, the rectory office staff, and janitors who cleaned the church each Friday in preparation for the weekend Masses. In addition, he expressed his gratitude to the altar servers, the choir and the Knights of Columbus for their part in the liturgy.
Bishop Checchio thanked Father Caputo and the religious sisters in attendance. “It is good to be here again and to bless the new sanctuary,” he said.
After the Mass, 250 people attended a reception in Lourdes Hall.
Reflecting on the day, Barczak said,.“My husband, our workers and I have done many projects for many churches, but we were so surprised by how grateful the parishioners and the clergy were for our work. We felt so appreciated by the party and the blessings that were given to us,” she added.
St. Cecelia Parish was founded in 1917 and has more than 1,150 registered members, 800 active families, 100 active contributors and more than 2,000 parishioners attending weekend Masses on a regular basis. The cornerstone for the present church was laid in 1988. Before that, Mass was celebrated at St. Cecelia School.
By Sue Getz, Correspondent at The Catholic Spirit