By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer
STRAFFORD – Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in Strafford, Chester County, recently completed a $1.4 million renovation project on the 88-year-old church that includes substantial structural upgrades, a redesigned outdoor piazza, an indoor/outdoor elevator, a new indoor staircase and vestibule, refurbished confessionals, repositioning of the baptismal font and relocation of the parish offices.
“Now that our church is more accessible, we as people of faith are in a better position to give God praise and to work in spreading His Gospel,” said Msgr. Joseph T. Marino, Assumption’s pastor who also serves as the regional vicar for Chester County.
Cardinal Justin Rigali blessed and dedicated the church at the 5 p.m. Mass Saturday, Oct. 17.
The front steps outside the church have been widened and brought up to code, and an elevator at the side of the church allows easy access for those who are unable to climb them.
The church and rectory are accessible through a significant number of steps which, the pastor believes, were originally installed as a solution to a high water table. Although the parish has a handicapped-accessible ramp, the elevator is a welcome alternative to those who had difficulty maneuvering the high and lengthy incline, which was constructed to conform to the elevated structure.
Eleanora Rose, 86, is ecstatic about the elevator. “It’s a blessing,” she said. The week before the elevator was up and running, Rose was rather uneasy on her feet as she walked up the handicapped-accessible ramp with the use of her cane. Now, she said, “You go in off the ground floor, push the button and up you go.”
Another inconvenience of the past for Rose is her accessibility to Mass cards. Before, she had to find an alternate source to obtain the cards because she was unable to maneuver the steps to the parish office at its previous location.
“Now, it’s really very convenient,” she said of being just an elevator ride away from the office.
The renovations, Rose added, are “a Godsend.”
Previously, parishioners had to step up to get to the church proper from the vestibule. Now, through a renovation of the vestibule, its floor is level with the floor of the body of the church.
The lower church was also renovated and now contains a chapel-like meeting space, restrooms and the parish’s offices, which were previously located in the rectory.
A staircase from the lower church to the choir loft replaces a narrow spiral stairwell that spanned solely from the main floor to the choir loft.
The church remained open for worship throughout the yearlong project.
Rick West, director of music ministries, is singing praises about the staircase that replaced the spiral stairwell.
“It is extremely helpful to our musicians because that little narrow, winding, spiral staircase had no rails to hold onto – just the center post. Only one person at a time could go up and down. The wider staircase with rails on both sides is much safer. Now, people can go up and down simultaneously. It’s definitely an advantage for our aging choir members.”
The meeting space in the lower church is particularly beneficial to parents who will no longer have to bundle up their children in the winter months when they send them from the church proper to another building on the property for participation in the children’s Liturgy of the word on Sunday mornings.
Christine Gaeto, a parish historian, appreciates the prominence a stained glass window of the Assumption now has since it was moved from the side of the church to the refurbished vestibule. In its previous location, another building on the parish property blocked its view and prevented light from shining through.
“I find it wonderful how Monsignor has considered the parishioners of the past and our heritage in incorporating parts of our church in the renovations,” she said of the dignified places the pastor found for the stained glass window and some of the parish’s other signature pieces of yesteryear.
Christine’s husband Mark, a member of the parish pastoral council, agreed. “Monsignor has just done a great job in taking our 100-year-old church into the modern realm and preparing it for the next 100 years,” he said.
Mark Gaeto said the project also repositions into the community the parish’s thriving pre-school and kindergarten programs.
Assumption has 1,050 registered families, or 3,000 registered inspaniduals, on its roster.
To pay for the project, the parish drew a portion from its trust fund, which it plans to replenish within a five-year period.
The renovations were made to build up the church both physically and spiritually for present parishioners and those of future generations, Msgr. Marino said.
As a result, “the church has been restored to a beautiful setting for worship and the lower church provides facilities and offices that are welcoming and adequate for the work of evangelization,” he added.
“We invest all of this to continue to fuel the renewal” needed by both the local community and the Church at large, Msgr. Marino said.
“We’ve positioned ourselves for the future.”
To view the renovations, visit the web site www.olastrafford.org/renovation.
CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215-587-2468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.