Renovations complete at Naples church - Catholic Courier
Bishop Matthew H. Clark anoints the new altar at Naples' St. Januarius Church with oil during a rededication Mass Aug. 14. Bishop Matthew H. Clark anoints the new altar at Naples' St. Januarius Church with oil during a rededication Mass Aug. 14.

Renovations complete at Naples church

By Jennifer Burke/Catholic Courier

Bishop Matthew H. Clark visited St. Januarius Church in Naples Aug. 14 to rededicate the altar of the church’s newly renovated sanctuary.

The base of the altar is new, but its top was constructed using wood from the previous altar. This new altar is highlighted by a curved wooden reredos, or backdrop, which comes to a point above the altar. A crucifix hangs at the peak of the reredos, and another portion of the reredos stretches out to one side to provide a backdrop for the tabernacle. The tabernacle itself was moved from its previous place behind the altar to a chapel of the Blessed Sacrament to the left of the sanctuary, just steps from the altar.

Several other elements of the church also were changed during the renovation, including:

* the sanctuary floor, which was lowered to make it more accessible, especially for the elderly or those with disabilities. Whereas five steps previously led from the nave to the sanctuary, now there are only two. A ramp into the sanctuary also was installed at the rear of the area.

* the crucifix at the reredos’ peak. The cross is new, but the corpus previously had hung on another cross in the church’s foyer.

* the ambo. Wood from St. Januarius’ previous altar was used to fashion a new top for the ambo, as well as part of the new Blessed Sacrament chapel.

* the lighting and electrical systems in the sanctuary and nave, which were upgraded and made more energy efficient.

* the church’s Tobey Street entrance, where an automated handicapped-accessible door was added.

St. Januarius also has become home to two statues from St. Mary Church in Rushville, which held its last regular Mass Jan. 1, 2011. Both churches are part of Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Community.

All of these changes were made for either liturgical or safety reasons, said Jerry Luzum, a parishioner and volunteer at St. Januarius.

“From a liturgical standpoint, the concerns were that the focus in the sanctuary was no longer the altar,” said Luzum, noting that this focus was obscured by wooden railings, organ pipes and other items in the sanctuary. “There were just a lot of other things that had been added, and when you walk into a church, you ought to have a sense of what’s the most important thing there.”

“It was just a little crowded up there, busy,” added fellow parishioner Sue Hopper.

The height of the sanctuary floor had been a safety concern for some time, said parishioner Andy Beigel, who noted the condition of the stairs leading to the sanctuary was “treacherous at best.”

“They had weird rises, very narrow tread, and a few of them were kind of shaky,” said Beigel, a member of the steering committee for the renovation and cochair of the cluster’s pastoral council.

The church had been built with a raised sanctuary to allow people sitting far away to be able to see what was happening at the altar, explained Father George Wiant, a retired priest who regularly assists at St. Januarius. When the church was built in 1966, weekend Masses drew large summer crowds of visitors, so a movable, accordion-style wall allowed overflow crowds to be seated in the gathering space beyond the nave.

“To me as celebrant, it made me feel quite distant from the people,” Father Wiant said, noting that this extra space is no longer needed during Mass. “The motive was to lower the altar down where it felt like it was more of a community together.”

With the floor lowered and the ramp installed, it now will be easier for people with disabilities to serve as lectors or extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, added Cris Wensel, pastoral associate at St. Januarius. The new lighting makes it easier for parishioners to see, and the new layout of the sanctuary draws one’s eyes to the altar, Beigel said.

“I think it’s very simplistic. It’s almost as if when you come in, it wraps its arms around you,” said parishioner Jackie Leysath.

“I find it a serene, very meditative environment. The curvature of the reredos seems to be embracing, like a set of arms pulling you in,” Hopper agreed.

Yet some parishioners did not share such sentiments about the reredos, or the renovation in general.

“The new design looks like a wooden Christmas tree, and you can’t see the organ (anymore),” noted Bill Vierhile, who said he and a number of other parishioners were not in favor of the renovation and liked the church the way it was.

“A lot of people weren’t for it, but I think it came out all right,” he said. “Probably we’ll get used to the new design. I think in time it will probably work out OK, but it’s different.”

Leysath said she loves the sanctuary’s new look, but understands it will take time for some people to get used to such a drastic change. It’s human nature to be afraid of change, said parishioner George Horsch, who was on the steering committee for the renovation.

“There was a lot of negativism, a lot of critique about what they were doing to the beautiful sanctuary,” Horsch recalled.

Wensel acknowledged the mixed feelings about the renovation and said parish leaders didn’t want to make people unhappy. Nonetheless, “You go by what needs to be done,” she said.

All aspects of the renovation were meticulously planned with the goal of making sure St. Januarius remains a vibrant church community, Beigel added.

“It’s like labor,” Hopper said. “You go through a lot of pains, there was a lot of pain in the community itself, and maybe the baby doesn’t look exactly like Mom or Dad, but it’s beautiful in its own way. The Lord gave it to us.”

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