St. Bede Church renovation

By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

HOLLAND – When St. Bede Church in Holland, Bucks County, completes an extensive renovation at the end of next year, it will have a distinct West Philadelphia interior. Chester Avenue at 56th Street to be exact.

Included in the renovation will be sacred artifacts from Most Blessed Sacrament Church, which closed in 2008. Included are MBS’s marble baldachin, two marble side altars with marble statues of the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Virgin, the brass tabernacle, two marble adoring angels, part of the marble altar rail, the marble crucifix, the Stations of the Cross with antique light fixtures, candelabra and two large brass chandeliers. Especially fine is the marble altar front depicting DaVinci’s Last Supper.

Perhaps most eye-catching will be three of the large stained glass windows from MBS, depicting the Resurrection, the Annunciation and the Adoration of the Magi, as executed by the Georg Boos studio in Munich, Germany, in 1924.

There are also medium-sized windows depicting Melchizedek and the disciples with Jesus at Emmaus, as well as six smaller windows with stained glass medallions.

Artifacts in a second phase will include the facades of the MBS confessionals as well as the large marble holy water fonts.

On Sunday, Jan. 17, a group of former MBS parishioners were given an after-Mass sneak preview of a number of the artifacts that will adorn St. Bede.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Christian Brother Timothy Ahern, president of West Philadelphia Catholic High School and a 1962 MBS School grad. The parish in his day was huge, and no one would have imagined it would someday close, but “nothing remains constant. If you can hold on to the memories they can’t be taken away from you,” he said. “(Most Blessed Sacrament) was magnificent, and it’s wonderful these are being incorporated into another parish. It’s fantastic when you think of the thousands and thousands of eyes who saw them in the past.”

Bill Shaw, who graduated from MBS School in 1957, saw things he never noticed as a child.

“I wasn’t an altar boy so I was never close enough to the altar to see the Last Supper centerpiece,” he said. “The detail is amazing, and I never realized how big the crucifix was or how beautiful the baldachin was.”

For him it was a sad experience to hear MBS was closing, but “you had to realize the neighborhood had changed. When I was growing up 98 percent of the people were Catholic. It’s an amazing tribute to the church that these things are being used instead of going to waste. I can’t wait to see the church when it is finished.”

Christina (McMenamin) Lynn is a St. Bede parishioner who never saw MBS, but it was the parish of her mother and grandmother.

“My mom was so excited when she heard this,” she said. “That was the parish my parents were married in. Just talking about MBS brought memories back to her. My grandmother loved MBS.”

“I’m excited about the changes; the church is going to be beautiful,” Lynn said. “It will look like an old-fashioned Catholic church.”

That’s pretty much the whole idea, according to Msgr. John C. Marine, pastor of St. Bede Parish.

“We are going from a 1960s A-frame look to a more traditional neo-classic look,” he said.

When the church was built it was never intended to be the final church and the founding pastor referred to it as the chapel, Msgr. Marine explained. The question was to replace it or to upgrade it, and the parish chose to do the latter.

The final design is based on plans drawn up by Notre Dame University professor and ecclesiastical architect Duncan Stroik.

When the MBS artifacts became available, Msgr. Marine purchased them for the parish and had them repaired and restored as needed.

The total renovation, which will include some enlargement especially in the sanctuary and sacristy and a new lower narthex as well as an elevator, will cost about $5 million.

During most of the renovations the church will be available for weekend liturgies, but for a while they will be held in the parish gymnasium with daily Masses in the parish Drexel Center. Weddings and funerals will be at neighboring parishes.

The renovation, which has enthusiastic parish support, “will provide parishioners with an experience of what the liturgy is all about, being present in this world and the next world,” Msgr. Marine said.

It will add meaning to the inscription which will be over the main sanctuary arch: “This is the House of God and the Gate of Heaven.”

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