After wrapping up a long-term renovation project, St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Park Slope has a new look thanks to local artists and parishioners.
“We need only look around us to see the evidence of the gifts of God’s holy people, and the work of many hands which have beautified St. Thomas Aquinas Church,” Father Jesus Cuadros, pastor, said last Sunday.
He offered thanks to God and his people at a June 14 Mass of blessing and thanksgiving to celebrate the completed renovations in the church, one of two worship sites of Holy Family-St. Thomas Aquinas parish.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio presided at the bilingual Mass. Concelebrants included Msgr. Joseph Grimaldi, episcopal vicar for Brooklyn; Father Andrew Sioleti, I.V. Dei, weekend Mass assistant; and Father Cuadros. Assisting at the altar were parish Deacon John Flannery and Deacon Jaime Varela, the bishop’s master of ceremonies.
As classical singers raised their voices to the newly gilded and sky blue vaulted ceiling, Massgoers in the pews had a chance to absorb the collective restorations that have occurred over the past several years.
New paint and carpeting have restored a sense of grandeur in the 129-year-old church, which is enhanced by the refurbishment of the stained-glass windows, and the return of full color to the Stations of the Cross. Commissioned stained-glass windows transformed the chapel and sacristy. And complementing the interior improvements, a complete exterior makeover restored the original red brickwork and windows.
Parishioners celebrated the completion of the decade-long renovation with a Mass of blessing on June 14.
Among the attendees were Sandra and Emilio Lugo, parishioners for 50 years, who love the updated look.
Just off the main church, the chapel and sacristy also received a makeover and 14 new stained-glass windows.
Mexican parishioners honored Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Ecuadorians honored Our Lady of El Cisne, with windows in the chapel.
Renovation efforts were undertaken by the D’Ambrosio Ecclesiastical Art Studios, Inc., under the guidance of Zeke Schroeder, and husband-and-wife team, Jack and Renata Olechowski of Galahad Studios. Representatives of both studios attended the Mass, as did artist Suzanne Debold, a parishioner who repainted the Stations of the Cross out of her love for the church.
This beautification effort all began with one telephone call to fix a broken pane of stained glass. The repair of that window nearly a decade ago evolved into an ongoing makeover, which took place through the generosity of many benefactors. The work was finally completed just before Easter Sunday.
Much like the mustard seed in the Gospel reading from St. Mark, this undertaking received the support it needed to grow and flourish.
“One by one, people from the parish came forward to pay for the restorations,” said Dorothy Negron, parish secretary. “As people saw the work being done, they gave and continued to give.”
In his homily, Bishop DiMarzio noted how uplifting it is, not only for the 600 members of the parish family, but also the community at large, to see this church in such a state of splendor.
“This church today is a testament to the new evangelization,” the bishop told the congregation. “This is truly a place of beauty, a place where the Kingdom can grow.”
The bishop said the new look is also a great opportunity to bring friends and neighbors into the church.
A small invitation, he said, can spark “a new revival of faith, a new encounter with God.”
One aspect of the renovation that should not be missed: the 14 stained-glass windows the Olechowskis custom-made with intricate details for the chapel and sacristy areas.
Among the highlights are a window in honor of the Divino Niño Jesus, a devotion Father Cuadros brought to the parish from his native Colombia. The window also has smaller images of importance to the pastor, including Colombians in native dress, and a line of dedication to his parents.
Other windows show Our Lady of El Cisne and Our Lady of Guadalupe, gifts from members of the Ecuadorian and Mexican communities, respectively, who make up half of this parish family.
The artists developed such a close connection to the parish that they actually donated the first window of the Madonna and Child in memory of Renata’s mother, Barbara Mastej.
Tribute to Loved Ones and Friends
Parishioner Mary Anne Walsh donated not one, but two windows. The first depicts St. Patrick in memory of her parents. The second features a “kitchen Madonna” and the words, “I find heaven in the midst of saucepans and brooms.” It’s a tribute to late parishioners Susan Maggiore and Mary Rocco, who were always cooking for friends and neighbors.
“We listened to the people, what they wanted, what their stories were,” Jack Olechowski said, and then the couple let the Holy Spirit guide their hands.
Emilio and Sandra Lugo, parishioners for more than 50 years, were grateful for everyone who contributed to the renovation, in ways both big and small, and happy to see their church looking so good.
“I think it’s beautiful,” exclaimed Sandra, who said the chapel is now her “favorite part.”
Angela Sbano, parish cantor, has watched the transformation of the main church on nearly a daily basis.
“It is certainly something to behold,” she said. “It is truly befitting the history and the grandeur of this church.”
It seemed equally fitting when parishioners raised their voices as one family to sing, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” during the offertory. Five-year-old Augustina Sbano, Angela’s daughter, contributed her gift of playing a verse of the hymn on her recorder.
Before the final blessing, Father Cuadros reminded the people that the “most important renovation” must come from within, and the work of building God’s Kingdom, from youngsters like Augustina, to lifelong Catholics like the Lugos, is never finished.