By Michael Rizzo
Better, more beautiful and blessed.
Those words describe both the renovations and the atmosphere at the Feb. 24 rededication Mass at St. Dominic Church in Bensonhurst.
In a liturgy that even Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio described as rare, he rubbed the church’s new altar with chrism oil and prayers of thanks and praise were offered for the building’s restoration. That work included new space for pews that expands the church’s seating, icons of the 12 Apostles above the altar and ramps for easier access by those in wheelchairs to enter the church and sanctuary.
Carmelo Grasso said he’s been a parishioner for 41 years. He came to the rededication Mass with his wife, Rosario, and son, Philip.
“We are proud,” he said of the renovated church. He also gave praise to Msgr. David Cassato, administrator, for spearheading the changes.
“He’s made something great and beautiful for the community,” Grasso added as he looked around at the expanded church vestibule.
The work on St. Dominic’s, which was originally built in the 1970s on the site of a former factory, began last Easter and according to Msgr. Cassato, cost $1.6 million. He said Bishop DiMarzio told him years ago that the building should be restored.
When Msgr. Cassato became the administrator – with the bishop’s support – he received a loan from the diocese to do the work. Msgr. Cassato said some of the money has been repaid, but donations are still needed for the rest.
“This is a better space now for people to worship,” he said. “It’s giving people a feeling of hope and strength in this parish.”
Carlos Rosales echoed those thoughts.
“God is truly in this house,” he said. “The quality of our church is better.”
The renovation added several rows of wooden pews in the traditional nave side of the church. On the other side of the altar is a community center that opens up allowing congregants to attend Mass by sitting on folding chairs. The renovation means the church can now seat as many as 300 of the faithful. When smaller congregations attend liturgies, the community center can be closed off by movable dividers that were also renovated.
D’Ambrosio Ecclesiastical Art Studios oversaw much of the restoration. Tony D’Ambrosio, patriarch of the firm, said the renovation achieved more than just adding things like artwork on the church’s ceiling that depicts the sacraments.
“This shows that this church is alive, will stay alive and the people here will be active in it.”
It was a standing-room-only congregation for the rededication Mass, which had the Scripture readings in Italian and Spanish, two large communities in the parish, as well as English. In his homily, Bishop DiMarzio spoke in all three languages and said the renovation showed “there’s nothing too good for God.”
“Your efforts made this a beautiful space for God and for all of us who come here,” he told the congregation.
The bishop then blessed the altar with chrism oil, the same oil used in baptisms and ordinations, and new altar linens were placed atop it. The lace came from Bari, Italy, and was sewn by 89-year-old Caterina Lionetti, an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and lector at St. Dominic’s.
“Today we show that our church will go on,” she said. Just before Mass ended, Msgr. Cassato thanked the whole community for its support. He said with the rededication, he wanted to change the church’s nickname from “the small church with a big heart” to “the big church with a bigger heart.”
Parishioner Katherine Garcia agreed.
“We may not be as big as other churches,” she said, “but we connect with each other as a community and we come together.”
Under skies that were cloudy but without the rain that was forecast, parishioners then witnessed Bishop DiMarzio bless the church’s exterior wheelchair ramp on 20th Avenue and a statue of St. Dominic just inside the church doors.
Before many went back inside for a celebratory reception in the community center, they crowded around the bishop to thank him for his presence and to congratulate Msgr. Cassato for his efforts.
For Filomena Lombardi, whose family has been a part of the parish since it was formed, the day was the start of a bright future for St. Dominic’s.
“This shows that it’s growing,” she said, “and we’re a strong church and a family, a nice little family.”