Catholic Free Press

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  • Apr
  • 17

St. John’s restoration: back to former glory

Posted By April 17, 2014 | 11:19 am | Featured Article #1

By William T. Clew

A few finishing touches and the work of restoring the sanctuary with its triptych, the front wall and side spaces at St. John’s Church will be done, said Geoffey Kostecki of Master Liturgical Design of Amherst.
He, his wife Kristin Bock, and Lorna Hanes, started the restoration work last summer. Master Liturgical Design also completed an extensive renovation and restoration at St. Paul’s Church in Warren.
Mr. Kostecki said they wanted to restore the altar and its surroundings to the way it looked in 1916, along with a bit of updating and simplification. For reference they had a 1916  postcard with a photograph of the altar. It shows the triptych, the painted archways over the main altar and the painted columns between the altar and the two side altars. Those altars were removed after the Second Vatican Council.
The triptych shows the Crucifixion in the center panel, the Nativity on the left panel and the Resurrection in the right panel. Restoration included removing from the paintings soot and smoke which had accumulated from  candles burning on the altar after years of Masses and other ceremonies.            The soot and grime was cleaned and the varnish that covered the paintings was stripped. A portion of the painting was restored and the triptych was revarnished, Mr. Kostecki said.
The walls above the altar and niches to either side were painted and feature new plaster moldings with a leafy design. One of the niches holds the baptismal font, the other a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Mr. Kostecki said the new paint is a custom color that matches the color of the marble altar. It is warmer and lighter than the cold, bone white that covered the area previously. Also, the niches are separated from the altar space by two painted columns like the ones shown in the 1916 postcard. Two oil portraits, one of St. Therese on the right, another of St. Francis Xavier on the left, are hung at the base of the columns. The archways and the walls also were painted with a flower pattern.
Father John F. Madden, pastor, said that a parishioner told him after the restoration was finished that “it looks like it’s always been here.”
In 2004 St. John’s Church suffered heavy damage on Labor Day weekend when the ceiling collapsed and smashed pews, baptistry and part of the altar. Masses were celebrated at Ascension Parish until September 2005 when renovations to the damaged areas were finished. Bishop McManus celebrated a Mass of Rededication on Oct. 15, 2005.
The work on the sanctuary, triptych, altar and surrounding areas is part of that renovation, Father Madden said. The work was done as money became available, he said. He said that Frank Carroll, chairman of the St. John’s Parish building committee, has been overseeing the work and was instrumental in planning and starting the project.
The church, completed in 1846, was designed by Patrick W. Ford, an Irish-American architect. He worked with Patrick C. Keeley of Brooklyn and James Murphy of Providence in the later half of the 19th century to design most of the Catholic churches in the Eastern United States, according to information provided by Mr. Carroll.
The church, completed in 1846, was the second to stand on the Temple Street property. It replaced a wooden structure called Christ Church, which the parish had outgrown. It was called the Mother Church of the Springfield Diocese, of which Worcester was a part until the Diocese of Worcester was formed in 1950.
Christ Church was built in 1934 by Father James Fitton, missionary priest who was called from Hartford by Bishop Benedict Fenwick of Boston to serve the growing Catholic population in Central Massachusetts. It was the first Catholic Church in Massachusetts west of Boston.
Father Fitton also founded a school for boys on Pakachoag Hill called Mount St. James which, in 1843, became the College of the Holy Cross.