A mixture of old and new distinguishes the first major renovation in more than 30 years at St. Mary’s Southside Church in Elmira.
The church will be commemorated on Friday, Sept. 9, when Bishop Matthew H. Clark celebrates Mass at 7 p.m. This will mark the first liturgy inside the church, located at 224 Franklin St., since construction work began this past spring. Masses have been temporarily held in the adjacent Holy Family Primary School gymnasium.
Parishioners will notice changes almost literally from their first step inside, thanks to a large gathering space — encased by a circular wall with glass windows — that has been created near the church entrance. Many other changes to the interior are also evident.
“We pretty much gutted the whole church,” remarked Father Rick Farrell, pastor.
In the sanctuary area, a brand-new altar is accompanied by a new ambo — or stand — for lectors, cantors, homilists and other speakers. There is also a new tabernacle near the altar’s center and a new baptismal font off to one side.
Father Farrell said St. Mary’s history was honored in this part of the church, as evidenced by the use of a restored tabernacle as well as pieces of marble from a former altar in the tabernacle table. In addition, two sections of the old altar rail have been erected near the tabernacle so worshipers can kneel and pray in adoration.
“We’re trying to blend contemporary with traditional,” Father Farrell said.
All new pews have been installed, creating a circular effect. Free-standing chairs have been added as well. Other features include new, computerized lighting; a new sound system; updated heating system; a new handicapped-accessible bathroom; restored Stations of the Cross; painted walls; new carpet; and new reconciliation room near the sanctuary. Father Farrell said color coordination was a key in the renovation, so as to bring about “a lighter and brighter design.”
Final details on this massive undertaking were being completed over the past couple of weeks.
“People so far have been very pleased, very happy with the results,” Father Farrell said.
LaBella Associates P.C. of Rochester served as the project’s architectural firm, working closely with St. Mary’s staff and renovation committee on design details. Edger Enterprises Inc. of Elmira was general contractor for the construction, which began in April.
The refurbishing was made possible through a campaign begun in 2004. According to Father Farrell, approximately $1.05 million has been raised thus far toward an originally projected cost of $1.2 million, which he said will probably end up closer to $1.4 million. For the most part, he observed, parishioners have supported the campaign solidly.
“This was pretty smooth sailing. By and large, people knew we needed something done. The church was old, it was dirty and it was dated — so it wasn’t hard to build a case when you had falling plaster and chipping paint,” he remarked.
The current St. Mary’s Church was built in the 1870s, a few years after the parish was established. Father Farrell said this year’s renovation was thorough enough to hold up for several decades to come.