‘Repair My Fallen House’

Oct. 20-26, 2005
‘Repair My Fallen House’
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
For parishioners in Solvay, St. Cecilia’s is more than “just a church.”

For those parishioners, the 103-year-old church is a place for social gathering, a place of worship, a place where families maintain their traditions. It is a “home of faith,” in the words of Chuck McCarty, the co-chair of buildings and grounds and a member of the parish council.

“It’s where I was born, bred, my children were baptized here, they went through first communion, confirmation…we’re all people who have been here all our lives,” said Carol Ball, a member of the parish council. “To us this is much more than a church. It’s our community; it’s part of what makes up us.” Solvay native Bill Francher was baptized at St. Cecilia’s in 1930 and has attended the church ever since. His grandfather helped excavate the foundations of the church and the structure has been at the center of his life both socially and spiritually.

“The church has been here for us through no matter what problem we had. From when we were small children we were taught that this is where you came,” Ball said. “This is where our faith was built. And then as we got older, we taught our children the same thing. This is where you get your faith. This is what makes you strong. This is what holds you together.” “We’re creatures of habit,” Francher said. “We share the same pew every Sunday at 8 o’clock. And it’s the same people. This is the place we come.” “Of all the parishes I’ve been in, it is truly a center of your faith. It’s a sacred place,” said Father George Hartnett, who has been at the parish for over six years. “Not only is it a place of worship, but it’s a place of gathering for many people.”

Now the ancient landmark is at a crisis point. Composed of an excessive five layers of building material, the roof of the church is deteriorating. According to Ball and McCarty, a considerable amount of water has penetrated the layers, wreaking havoc with the heavy structure. The peeling surface in the right-hand corner of the chancel, in which the baptismal is housed, evidences the damage as large pieces of the ceiling’s surface are peeling away. The sacristy reveals more of the damage, with several square feet of wall exposed.

The water has wrought its destructive work over the course of several years, gradually breaking down the structure. The damage has become so extensive that the threat to the parishioners’ safety is very much a reality. According to Father Hartnett, “It is to the point where there really is a fear of someone getting hurt.”

Hartnett also noted that a very high percentage of the parishioners call St. Cecilia’s their home parish. “Most of us have been here for a long, long time,” Ball said. Along with the roof, the church is seeking a means to solve a problem with the stained glass windows that decorate the anterior of the church behind the altar. During the Labor Day storm of 1998, the windows were blown out. They were subsequently replaced, but McCarty believes the church must find a long-term solution to the problem should it arise again.

With mortar degrading between them, the red bricks that compose the outside of the church must be repointed, according to McCarty. In addition, the surfaces need to be resealed in order to combat the water penetration; some of the building’s masonry must be restored; the foundation may need some repairs and some of the building’s trim must be repainted.

The parish council has already solicited bids from contractors and is hoping to raise $700,000 to meet the costs for all of the repairs. The church has received pledges totaling $300,000 and has $250,000 already in the bank, but it is still several hundred thousand dollars short of its goal.

The church’s capital campaign has included several raffles since July and, according to parish council member Jeanette Femano, the church has already raised $2,800. The church also offered a Tupperware party that came just a few dollars short of $1,000. One younger couple from the parish has offered to sell Christmas cookies. St. Cecilia’s Catholic Youth Organization is engaged in a bottle drive that began in August.

The council has also sent letters of solicitation to members of the parish, St. Cecilia’s school alumni and “anyone who has been associated with St. Cecilia’s over the past 20 years,” Ball said. The church will offer a pasta dinner Oct.26 at the VFW in Solvay and Nov. 5 a craft show will be held in the church basement. Tables at the craft show will go for $25.

One of the problems confronting the church’s fundraising effort is a “charity drought,” according to Ball, especially in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. “With everything that is being asked for, between hurricanes and other fundraisers that are coming along, it’s a tough time to be asking people for money,” Ball said.

But the members of St. Cecilia’s believe that they owe a great deal to the church that has been so important to them over the years. “It’s up to us to give to this building as well,” McCarty said. “It’s our job and our responsibility to preserve it as we move forward through the next 100 years. That’s why we’re here.”

Those wishing to contribute to St. Cecilia’s capital campaign should call the rectory at (315) 488-3221.

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