History Project – A Tour of the Church Part 1 of 2

In today’s post, Andrea Thomas writes the first installment of her tour of the church.

How easy it is to take our worship space for granted! Twenty-five years ago, everything in the St. Mary Mother of God parish church was brand new, and even if individuals had differing opinions about some of the design aspects, we were in awe of our new building and grateful to God that we once again had a place that was ours. Now, as we celebrate 175 years as a parish, it is good to look at some of the many blessings that help to sustain us as a faith family.

Our baptismal font is located both near the entrance to the building proper and near the entrance to our worship space, just as Baptism is the entrance into the faith family. The upper font, designed for the baptism of infants and children, is also used by persons entering and leaving worship to make the sign of the cross with blessed water, as a reminder of our own baptism. The lower pool reflects the Catholic church’s reinstitution of the Christian Initiation of Adults, including forms of baptism that include a great deal of water—sometimes with the individuals being baptized kneeling in the pool. Baptismal practices at St. Mary’s vary depending on pastoral considerations.

Near the baptismal font is a specially designed wood and glass case called the ambry that houses oils blessed by the bishop each year at the Chrism Mass—the Oil of the Sick (OI), the Oil of Catechumens (OC), and the Holy Chrism (SC).

Also in the same entrance area is a tall crucifix that survived not only the boiler explosion that destroyed the first large 1858 brick church, but also the fire that destroyed the 1886 “old” St. Mary’s that was struck by lightning and burned on September 2, 1993.

The 1886 church building was put on the National Register of Historic Places on December 27, 1984, and removed on September 13, 1993.

A memorial quilt honoring members of the St. Martin de Porres Society hangs near the south doors, and inside the church proper is a private room for the sacrament of reconciliation.

Among the most striking features of the church are the art glass windows.

The Good Samaritan window to the west was designed to highlight the parish commitment to compassion, service, and diversity. The Mary, Mother of God window to the north honors the patron saint of the parish. The large crucifix in front of the window is a later addition to the sanctuary, as is the white marble tabernacle, where the reserved sacrament is kept. This refurbished piece was part of the 1886 worship space and replaces the stunning beveled glass tabernacle that was part of the original 1999 design. The tall marble candlesticks used during the Christmas and Easter seasons have also been refurbished from the 1886 church building.
Of particular interest is the straight sight-line from the altar, through the glass doors, and on to Lafayette Street, a reminder to the celebrant of the parish ties to the wider community.

An exquisite art glass window representing the Eucharist exists in the former chapel, which will soon be restored to its original purpose.

Also in the worship space are Stations of the Cross in traditional icon style. These were hand painted in Poland especially for St. Mary’s parish. In the 1886 church, the stations were huge framed oil paintings. After being untouched for decades, a crew began the task of cleaning the wooden frames and discovered that the panels describing each station were removable—and that on the flip side of the English was Old German script. Speculation is that during WWI, when the use of the German language was banned in schools, the old script was replaced with English.

The Madonna of the Streets statue that occupies a place of honor behind the altar was given in memory of Joan and Tom Kelly, and, during Advent, the wreath stand we use was designed and created by Matthew Lee, son of late parishioners Jim and Colleen Lee.

The glass doors at the back of the worship space offer full view for overflow seating and fussy children. St. Mary’s has also been blessed with closed-circuit television in the gathering space, and a sound booth that allows not only for sound control, but also for the broadcast of Masses and special celebration via both YouTube and Facebook.

What a wonderful space we have! Part Two of our church tour will appear soon

Andrea S Thomas, June, 2023