In anticipation of its 125th anniversary this fall, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Kensington is undergoing major interior renovations this summer – for the first time in almost 90 years.
“Everyday I walk in there and I see something new and it is just so exciting,” said longtime parishioner Geraldine Cassone. “It just makes you feel so alive … and proud to be part of this parish.”
Renovations began in mid-July, explained Father Ilyas Gill, who recently marked his third year as pastor. The work consists of removing years of dirt from the walls and ceiling, cleaning and varnishing the woodwork and restoring two whitewashed reliefs to their natural tones.
A team labors 10 hours a day, Monday through Friday, and then the equipment is removed and the church is reopened for weekend Masses. This minimizes the disruption for parishioners and enables them to safely see the work in progress.
Funding for this effort came from parishioners’ donations to the diocesan Generations of Faith and Annual Catholic Appeal campaigns; the second collection and Pennies for Mary each week, and rental income from the former school building.
Generations of Faith, the capital campaign for the Diocese of Brooklyn and the Catholic Foundation for Brooklyn and Queens, was launched three years ago in Brooklyn and Queens parishes with the goal of raising $80 million to benefit the parishes, retired priests and youth evangelization efforts. More than $120 million has been raised to date.
Above and Beyond the Goal
Immaculate Heart of Mary launched its Generations of Faith campaign two years ago with a parish goal of $380,000. The faithful went above and beyond, making pledges totaling over $672,000.
“I always tell people – even $10, $5, whatever you can contribute helps us,” said Father Gill, “and they are very generous, very good to the church because they believe it is their church and they have to take care of this parish.
“I feel very blessed with these people. They are so loving, so caring and so generous and they come faithfully every Sunday.”
Parish of His Youth
A highlight of the work has been the newly restored reliefs depicting the Baptism of Jesus and the Pieta. Deacon James Noble, whose parents were on the committee that built the church, has waited more than 50 years to see them as they looked in his youth.
“They were originally colored the way they are (being restored) at this time,” said Deacon Noble, who recalls when the sculptures were covered in white paint and gold trim back in 1962.
“I came in the other day and I looked at the sculpture of John the Baptist and Jesus,” Cassone said. “The details and colors, it actually brought me into the picture. I felt like I was there in the presence of Jesus and John the Baptist. It was just beautiful.”
To date, Father Gill said that more than $287,000 in pledges has been collected, and the parish is now receiving 50 percent of every dollar paid over $37,985.
“We are the church, but if we don’t fund it and we don’t participate, there is no more church,” Cassone said.
Out of respect and gratitude for parishioners’ generous gifts, Deacon John Cantirino noted that the renovation project was undertaken with great care on the part of the pastor and his staff.
“We want to guard the money of the parishioners and spend it wisely,” explained the deacon.
“We want to do it right so that the restoration represents the church in its best glory, and… people can see their money at work in a very reverent and useful way.”
Following an exterior renovation to repair and repoint the roof, as well as fix gutters and leaders, the first part of the interior effort began last summer with the installation of air conditioning – a long-awaited enhancement that propelled parishioners to give more.
Another improvement, the addition of a church bathroom, was funded through the Annual Catholic Appeal, and parishioners’ donation also turned a rectory storage space into a meeting room, where daily Mass is being held during the renovation process.
Renovations will continue through September, and on Sunday, Oct. 14, the parish will observe its 125th year with a Mass celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop James Massa.
“At that time, the church is going to be really gorgeous and everybody will say ‘Wow, wow, I helped contribute to this project,’” said Father Gill.
Foundation for the Future
Viewing the work that has been completed thus far, parishioners can already see how their generosity is improving and updating their beloved church building for future generations.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s important this church and other churches are here for my children and grandchildren and generations to come,” Cassone added. “That’s what Generations of Faith is all about.”