Renovating for the future

Posted January 28, 2018 by George in Archive

A church is a building where people gather to worship God. A church is also the people of God who gather in that building. At St. George Church in Bridgeport, both the building and the people proudly recognize over a hundred years of history. Both, too— people and building alike—are busy working toward another century of worship. “We have parishioners from nine different countries worshipping here,” said Father Elio Sosa, IVE, pastor.

A recent parish census counted more than 900 people at weekend Masses. Founded by immigrant Lithuanians in 1907, the parish is currently home to a mostly Spanish-speaking community, encompassing newly-arrived families and those from a second or third generation in this country. Families from Lithuanian background still have a presence in the parish, along with parishioners who have a special place for Ireland in their hearts. “Everything we do here is bilingual,” said Father Sosa. “We are one family, no matter what our background.” They were one family in a leaky home, though. Water was infiltrating through the aged roof of the bell tower and appearing by the stained glass windows of the main church. “There’s a simplicity to the bell tower at St. George that’s absolutely fabulous,” said Rick Rapice, project manager for the diocesan Real Estate and Construction Office. “It’s a perfect square. It’s really beautiful; the proportions are terrific.” Because of the building’s age, Father Sosa had already worked with the Real Estate Office to correct structural problems around the property. “I think that experience gave Father Elio and his parish team the reassurance to see us as a resource and come to us with this new problem,” said Rapice. “Our parishioners want to see the church restored,” said Father Sosa. “So I followed the diocesan policy. I spoke to the bishop, and he put me in touch with the correct office. Richard was my right hand. He helped me a lot.” Renovation projects are daunting, and parishes lack the ability to deal with them alone. That’s where the background, knowledge and skill of the Real Estate and Construction Office come into play.

Over the past year, Rapice and Andrew Schulz, director of real estate, inspected the building and presented restoration drawings to Father Sosa and the parish council. During the summer, Schulz and Anne McCrory, chief legal real estate officer, researched restoration companies. Diocesan policy requires proposals from three different sources before accepting a contract. Due to the age of the church, it was important to choose someone who had experience restoring buildings from that era. They chose Arthur Vincent Co. in Nyack, N.Y., who had worked on a Congregational Church in Bridgeport. “The diocese knows him very well,” said Father Sosa. “Andrew Vincent, the son, came with Richard and Andrew to present final plans and financial estimates to the parish.” In October, a scaffold and netting was erected around the venerable tower. Before the month ended, they were replacing the crumbling, spalling masonry and had started to replace the roof with a copper skin.

The intricate European stained-glass windows, almost a hundred years beautiful, are now safe from water damage. Next up: re-pointing and re-facing the brick façade. A third item will be to replace the front steps, which have shifted over time. The pace of these items will depend on uncertain winter weather. The pace of spiritual life at St. George continues with no pause; no winter winds can dim the glow of energetic faith. Worshippers gather early for daily Mass in the inviting chapel. First Friday Mass and Eucharistic Adoration bring standing room only. Nearly 300 children participate in religious education programs. On Tuesdays and Fridays, school children can come to the building to be part of the Oratorio of St. John Bosco, a mix of homework, conversation, games and life skills. “Our kids, we know them all,” said Father Sosa. “We know if they are happy or feeling sad, and we have time to talk to them.” In November, the parish began a novena in honor of Our Lady of Juquila, a popular devotion from the Mexican highlands. It ended just before the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8. Another huge Marian feast followed—Our Lady of Guadalupe. Hard on the heels of these celebrations, St. George will celebrate Kucios, the traditional Lituanian Christmas Eve feast. “All one family,” Father Sosa repeated with pride. Meantime, Children’s Choir is practicing for Christmas Mass. A Christmas play will delight children and parents alike. Christmas Mass will be stuffed to the gills. Whatever the weather, Three Kings Day will see the parish hall brimming with food, flooded with music and laughter, and happy with toys for the little ones. They will be happy and warm—and dry. St. George, both the people and the building, are looking forward to another century of worship.