Church could be arts center - Catholic Courier

Church could be arts center

ROCHESTER — On the evening of June 28, a special contemporary- and classical-music concert took place inside Ss. Peter and Paul Church, 720 W. Main St. If Andrew Slominski has his way, such musical happenings there will become routine.

“The acoustics sound great,” Slominski said. “They’re better than I had hoped. It sounds really full and rich when there’s full instrumentation there.”

Slominski is hoping to persuade the City of Rochester and the University of Rochester to buy Ss. Peter and Paul and turn it into a community-outreach and performing-arts center. The concert was his way of showing how the church could serve as such a center.

The concert drew almost 200 people and featured Ss. Peter and Paul’s choir; the Eastman Youth Chamber Winds, an ensemble of advanced music students from area high schools; and the Bill Welch Band, a contemporary Christian group. The concert raised $1,570 for St. Peter’s Kitchen, which is located on parish grounds and which serves more than 200 free meals a day to area residents in need.

Although the kitchen will continue to operate, the church itself is slated to close. The parish has slated its last regularly scheduled Mass for Sunday, July 30, at 9:30 a.m, according to Father Raymond Fleming, pastor. A special closing Mass has yet to be scheduled, he added.

Ss. Peter and Paul belongs to the 19th Ward/Corn Hill/Bull’s Head Planning Group, which also includes St. Monica Church on Genesee Street and the now-closed churches of St. Augustine and Our Lady of Good Counsel. Members of all three churches have already, or will, join a new, larger community at St. Monica. Parishioners of Emmanuel Church of the Deaf, which formerly held its Masses at Good Counsel, also have moved to St. Monica.

The closings were recommended by members of the Roman Catholic Community of the 19th Ward/Ss. Peter and Paul’s Planning Committee, which includes representatives from all five parishes. Bishop Matthew H. Clark approved the committee’s recommendation last fall. The committee considered such varied factors as the declining number of priests; reduced attendance due to a declining city population; the strength and efficiency of combining their financial resources; and the desire to pool resources for ministry in light of the various facilities’ ages and need for ongoing maintenance.

Father Fleming said that if Ss. Peter and Paul were to become a performing-arts center, it would need to have additional parking spaces. The church currently has about 30 spaces, including several provided by a gas station across from the building. However, he added that he would love to see Slominski’s dream come true.

“If this could be a performing-arts center for the community, it would be wonderful,” Father Fleming said.

Slominski is a 21-year-old student at the University of Rochester, majoring in economics and political science, and minoring in Italian studies. His minor is one reason he became interested in Ss. Peter and Paul. He studied in Italy last year and learned upon his return to Rochester that there was an Italian-style church here at home. For the last six months, he’s been a parishioner of Ss. Peter and Paul, and in a flier distributed at the concert, Slominski wrote that he’s become enamored of the basilica church’s unique blend of early Christian, Romanesque and Renaissance architectural styles.

“These elements are combined to form a unique, yet coherent theme,” he wrote, adding: “Rochesterians should be proud to have such a treasure right on Main Street.”

Slominski said his proposal has received positive feedback from the university and the city, but there are no commitments as of yet. Slated to graduate from the university in 2008, he noted that he’s been accepted in the university’s Kauffman Entrepreneurial Year Program, which allows him to continue to attend the school one year tuition-free after he graduates. The program invites its scholars to “create an enterprise that generates values,” and Slominski said his Ss. Peter and Paul project is just such an enterprise.

In the flier, Slominski wrote that he envisions students from such schools as the Eastman School of Music — located on the corner of Gibbs and East Main streets — performing at Ss. Peter and Paul, which also could be used by the city for official functions and by area congregations for worship services. He added that the rectory and school buildings have rooms that could be used as offices, studios, practice rooms and classrooms.

Whatever the fate of Ss. Peter and Paul, it was clear that concert-goers were touched by Slominski’s commitment and dream. Patricia Lorenzen, director of St. Peter’s Kitchen, said she was spiritually moved by the performances and hopeful about the church’s future.

“We’re just trying to stay open to whatever the Lord intends for this building,” she said.

One of the performers, Bill Welch, said he also is a carpenter and appreciates both the acoustics as well as the craftsmanship inside Ss. Peter and Paul.

“There’s so many wonderful talents in this city — to have a place like this to perform would be wonderful,” he said.

John Curran, a parish volunteer, said Ss. Peter and Paul is an ideal performance center since sounds don’t echo inside. He added that he hopes the building could be used for the benefit of the city.

“The hope is to have the building brought forth to a reuse that is ennobling and a resource to the community,” he said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To learn more about Andrew Slominski’s ideas for Ss. Peter and Paul, e-mail him at aslomin2@mail.rochester.edu.

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