WESTFIELD, NJ — While they won’t be coming into the new worship space all at once, the 4,000 families of The Parish Community of Saint Helen will be returning to a church that has been rebuilt from the ground up — literally.
A ribbon cutting for the 15,700-square foot space is set for Monday, following a years-long initiative to rebuild and add onto the church building — an effort supported by parish fundraising in coordination with the Archdiocese of Newark.
“It really is the work of the whole parish,” said Monsignor Thomas Nydegger, who credits his predecessor, then Father Michael Saporito, for leading the effort before the Archdiocese made him a Bishop. “It really brought in everyone’s perspective. There were parishioners involved in the project all along.”
Originally built 50 years ago, the structure needed extensive improvements and as church leaders assessed the parish’s needs, they decided that the best way would be a nearly complete rebuild, Nydegger said.
“Early on the decision was made that it was going to be a better tack rather than just replacing the roof or doing a simple fix, to bring the walls down,” he said.
Today, the original foundation remains intact, said Chris Steiner, the facilities manager at Saint Helen, and the new structure built on that foundation includes two worship spaces: one that can seat 630 people and a chapel that seats 98 people — capacities anticipated to be filled following the pandemic.
“It’s tried to keep as many of the seating arrangements and all the accompaniments of the church — to mimic what was there, while also putting into effect a lot of natural light,” Steiner said.
The floor in the main worship space — an area that workers were putting finishing touches on Friday — remains the same as the original church building’s, and key features of the old structure have been carried into the new design, Nydegger said.
“The tabernacle and its surrounding décor are the tabernacle and décor that were in the old church,” he said. “The Risen Christ that will be above the main altar is the Risen Christ that was in the main church. The wall that was behind the altar is in the chapel.”
Stained glass windows placed in the worship space are the same windows that were in the original church, Nydegger said.
“We’ve tried to have an eye toward the future while maintaining the traditions of the past,” he said. “So, many of the parishioners will recognize a lot of these pieces when they come into the new space.”
While the construction has been ongoing, the parishioners have been holding services in a gymnasium at Meaney Hall, which is located next to the church building itself.
This week begins a series of events to mark the church rebuild, including a ribbon cutting ceremony and cornerstone blessing with both secular and religious leaders in Westfield Monday morning.
The events planned throughout the week culminate with a special mass of dedication Friday evening to be presided over by Cardinal Joseph Tobin.
“The altar will be blessed and dedicated as will the church, and that is the signature ceremony of the church dedication,” Nydegger said.
Saporito will offer a mass on Saturday evening and Father Gabriel Curtis, who also previously served the parish, will offer mass on Palm Sunday, Nydegger said.
“They were the ones that were stationed here for the lion’s share of the project,” he said.
Nydegger said that both the church’s leadership and its parishioners look forward to the formal reveal of the new building.
“We’re very excited. They’re very excited, and we really are trying to seize the moment that this is in the history of Saint Helen, which is one that is of great witness, great proclamation and great faith of the people,” he said.
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