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home : features : parish life

8/3/2017 9:00:00 AM
ST. MARY'S CHURCH
Oneonta parish renovations bring excitement, ecumenism
ST. MARY'S AMID RENOVATIONS.
ST. MARY'S AMID RENOVATIONS.
MASS IN THE PARISH CENTER GYM.
MASS IN THE PARISH CENTER GYM.
Parishioners of St. Mary's in Oneonta agree that there's no point in renovating their church if they themselves aren't renewed.

So, until the interior renovations underway at St. Mary's since June are complete, every Mass includes prayers for both the spiritual renewal of the people and the safety of the construction workers.

Rev. David Mickiewicz, pastor, told The Evangelist that many of the changes had been planned for 20 years: updating lighting, sound and heating systems; installing new windows; painting the church; removing walls and some pews to create larger side aisles and improve access for persons with disabilities; and creating a daily Mass chapel.

Places to go
Two restrooms are also being installed in the church. Parishioners like Amy Cerosaletti, who is on the renovation committee, confirmed that this is what excites people the most.

"Restrooms!" she declared. "We have one in the church, but it's in the sacristy and it's tiny. [For] anybody with a wheelchair, walker or stroller, there's no way" to squeeze into it.

Father Mickiewicz added that, in years past, Catholics tended to live close to their parishes and walk to church on Sunday, so there wasn't as much of a need for restrooms. In his five and a half years at St. Mary's, he's had to allow wedding parties to use the restroom in the parish rectory.

That's not the only reason the pastor is excited about the renovations. Having traveled a lot in Europe, he has seen and worshipped in churches of many styles and developed an interest in architecture. When it was determined that St. Mary's would move ahead with the changes, Father Mickiewicz said he managed to save the parish half the cost of hiring an architect by using the "design-build" concept with the contractors: "I design, and they build."

The parish raised about $1.5 million for the work. Some donations were more recent and pledges are still being sought, but some of the funds had been raised years ago and put aside until the work could be done.

"Most parishioners are benefiting from others who gave decades ago," he wrote in the parish bulletin. "It's our responsibility now. Together, we can renovate and renew our church."

Eastman Contractors of Oneonta is doing the renovations in partnership with the diocesan Architecture and Building Commission.

Further changes
As the work has progressed, Father Mickiewicz said, some unexpected expenses have arisen: In improving the heating system, asbestos was discovered and had to be removed. Taking out pews revealed worn spots in the church's terrazzo flooring, which meant grinding down the entire floor to even it out.

The sanctuary and daily Mass chapel are getting new, wooden floors. Other changes include a new platform for the altar, with a ramp to allow handicapped access; and swapping out statues, Stations of the Cross and carvings with other pieces from the former St. Mary's School, which closed in 2011.

"People are going to see some familiar things they haven't seen in a while," Father Mickiewicz said.

One goal for the work is to create a warm, welcoming feel to the church. There will be neutral paint colors, rocking chairs for parents with upset children and spaces in pews so people who use wheelchairs can sit among the congregation. Muted lighting in certain areas will take into consideration the fact that "seekers" and those returning to the Church may not want to sit in bright light until they get comfortable.

Get together
Mrs. Cerosaletti also pointed out that, during adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, "people tend to scatter throughout the church." Keeping the Blessed Sacrament in the daily Mass chapel will mean people cluster there for adoration, she said, which is "more intimate."

That intimacy is already occurring: During the renovation process, Sunday and holy day Masses are being celebrated in the parish center gym, and daily Masses are in the rectory basement.

Neither of those spaces are nearly as large as the church, but "people don't seem to mind being squished in together," said Mrs. Cerosaletti.

There's also a kind of community outreach happening: Funeral Masses are being celebrated at nearby St. James Episcopal Church and Atonement Lutheran Church, and one wedding was held at St. James.

Luckily, Father Mickiewicz said, he has several sets of liturgical vestments, so he's keeping one at each church. St. James even gave him a set of keys to that church complex.

"They have been very, very gracious," the pastor said. "This is where ecumenism really takes place."

The renovations are expected to be finished by September or October. In the meantime, parishioners have been posting photos of the progress on St. Mary's Facebook page.

"People are excited," Mrs. Cerosaletti said. "I think it's going to look lovely when it's done."





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