JAMAICA — Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio consecrated the new altar at St. Clement Pope Church this morning in Jamaica, Queens.
Bishop DiMarzio joined Father Michael Onyekwere, the church’s pastor, at 9:30 a.m. Mass on Sept. 27 to consecrate the new altar and help parishioners celebrate the re-dedication of their beloved church.
The bishop poured Chrism Oil on the church’s new marble and wood altar as part of the consecration.
“The altar is Christ in our midst,” the bishop told The Tablet prior to the Mass.
St. Clement Pope Church recently underwent a $250,000 renovation that included the construction of a new altar, refurbishment of a stunning wall mural on the altarpiece depicting the Sacred Heart of Jesus, angels, and other religious images, the installation of a new tile floor, and the construction of a new lector’s podium.
“We are very happy. It feels like a new start for our church,” said Father Onyekwer, who has been the pastor for two years.
St. Clement Pope Church was established in 1908. The current church building was constructed in 1925. The nearly 100-year history of the building means that the church has gone through a great deal of wear and tear, according to Henry Gargiulo, owner of Artisan Restoration Co., the firm that worked on the renovation project.
“It needed work badly. You couldn’t see the figures in the mural before. There was a lot of water damage. I’m glad we were able to do it,” Gargiulo told The Tablet. He was especially proud, he said, of a new image of St. Clement Pope that he painted on the right-hand side of the wall above the altar.
“We come to church to see God,” Bishop DiMarzio said. “If the church is beautiful, it makes everything better.”
For many years, the parish and the surrounding neighborhood were populated by large numbers of Irish, Italian, and German immigrants; but over the last 50 or 60 years, St. Clement Pope Church has become a predominately African-American parish. Masses are celebrated in English and in Igbo.
In an effort to reflect the vibrancy of the African-American community, the look of the church started to evolve. In the 1970s, the parish was renovated. Statues of African saints were given prominent places inside the sanctuary.
This year’s renovation, which took six months to complete, was welcomed by parishioners. “It’s refreshing,” Patricia Robinson told The Tablet.
Another parishioner, Beatrice Mills-Henry, said the renovation returned St. Clement Pope Church to the look it had back in the 1950s when she first started coming to the church as a young girl. “It is bringing back wonderful memories for me,” she said. “This is what the church looked like when I was young. It really is like a new start.”