Our Lady of Fatima parishioners complete renovations to church

By Lou Baldwin
Special to the CS&T

BENSALEM – When Cardinal Justin Rigali visited Our Lady of Fatima Church, Bensalem, Nov. 21 to celebrate Mass and bless the new altar it brought to fruition a truly group effort on the part of the parish.

“Essentially it started last spring,” said Father John F. Meyers, Our Lady of Fatima’s pastor. “The Holy Father said we should be facing east, and we were facing north, and also there was a lot of unusable space the way it was.”

Not long after Our Lady of Fatima was founded in 1954 the parish, as did many other new parishes, built a school with an auditorium area that could be used for Sunday worship. The intent was to build a separate church at a later date. But this never happened.

Our Lady of Fatima has a wealth of many cultures, especially with a growing number of Hispanics, but it has little wealth in terms of dollars. Building a new church would be a daunting task, and even extensive renovations were problematic.

In the end, almost everything from planning to execution of the project was done by volunteers, with most of the funds needed for materials and parts that could not be done by parishioners, for example stained glass work, covered through a bequest from a deceased member of the parish, Christine Lescik, Father Meyers explained.

The design for reorienting church space came from another parishioner, architect German Contraras. Under this plan a wall was removed to allow the sanctuary to be set farther back into previously unused space, and in the process the seating capacity increased from 386 to 450.

While the work was ongoing a huge mural depicting the apparition of Our Lady at Fatima was being executed in the new sanctuary area by an anonymous member of the parish who is a political refugee from Colombia (see Oct. 8 issue of the CS&T).

Kevin McDermott, who is a building contractor, oversaw the renovation.

“I knew the process. I knew (what) we had to do,” he said.

Father Meyers put in a call of volunteers, and they came.

“We worked mostly on Saturdays and over the course of the work we had between 20 and 30 guys. People need renewed faith and this was like a renewal,” said McDermott, a parishioner since 1998. “By taking and transforming the building it renewed the faith of Our Lady of Fatima.”

The workers brought their own tools, and they ranged from teens to senior citizens. Each was assigned according to their skills, whether it was carpentry or painting or whatever.

In the case of Ann DeMarco, a 15-year parishioner, working on the renovation meant being on the cleanup crew.

“Someone has to do the cleaning,” she said. “We are trying to enhance the sacredness of our church, and we feel the key to renewal is through sacred liturgy.” The finished renovation “does lift up your soul, and it has had a unifying effect on the parish. We hope this is springtime for our church.”

In addition to the change in physical dimensions, the church now has a new altar, a new pulpit and a presider’s chair, Father Meyers said.

The new mural especially “is a beautiful work of art,” he said. “It brought people together. People who didn’t know much about Our Lady of Fatima learned from it.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.