New memories

Aug. 3-16, 2006
New memories
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Holy Cross Church celebrates first Mass in its new church building

July 29 marked a special moment in the history of Holy Cross Church in Dewitt. On that day, Holy Cross parishioners celebrated Mass in their brand new church building. The new structure was blessed and an open house was held before the Mass.

Mary Jane Fennessey, a Holy Cross parishioner for close to 33 years, was excited about the new church building. “It’s absolutely beautiful,” remarked Fennessey. “It was tastefully designed. It’s twice as big, yet it has an intimate feeling.”

The parish has replaced its original church with a new structure to accommodate its growing congregation of 1,850 families. “The Dewitt community has grown,” said Bishop James Moynihan. “The parishioners are looking forward to the pleasure of worshiping in a larger church. Their smaller church has not been adequate for some time — it wasn’t sufficient to take care of all of the members of the congregation. It’s been a great challenge for Father Yeazel to meet all these expansion needs and do it within a limited space. He has found a way to do that with the help of his parishioners and professionals.”

“We started talking about building the new church in 2002, when the bishop told us we needed to make plans to accommodate the fact that there will be fewer priests in the future,” said Father Robert Yeazel, pastor of Holy Cross Church. He said the parish council listened to the parishioners’ input and made a decision in 2003 to build a new church, determining that it would be less expensive to build a new one than to enlarge the old church. “We had listening sessions with everyone,” remembered Father Yeazel. “We presented the concept for a number of weekends, explaining the demographics of the area. Then the parish council took a vote. It was a moving night in September 2004 — we had a holy hour. I’ll never forget this — one of the council members stood up and said, ‘I’m basically going to be against it.’ We prayed and sang for the next hour. At the end of the hour, he stood up and said, ‘I don’t know what happened, but we’ve got to do this.’”

Don La Casse, a parishioner at Holy Cross for the last eight years, said he was very excited about the building of the new church. “We miss the old church, but I feel a new one is needed,” he said.

Father Yeazel felt that the Holy Spirit has been a guiding force throughout the process. “It was what God wanted,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of challenges. We’ve gone to the town board 14 times. The neighbors were concerned about the houses and traffic in the area. Our first architect left the company and the second one died.”

The building project was funded by money that was pledged by the parishioners. The drive, which had a goal of $6 million, reached $6.4 million, with the addition of the memorialized furnishings. The building itself cost $5.7 million. A considerable amount of thought went into the design of the new church building. After a lengthy process of elimination, the parish chose Beardsley Design Associates architectural firm of Auburn to devise a plan for the new structure. An architect who was on the Holy Cross building committee helped revise the initial plan submitted by the firm.

Father Yeazel said that in the beginning of the project the parishioners were feeling a lot of emotions over leaving the old church. Father Yeazel tried to assuage their grief by incorporating several procedures into the last church service in the old church at the end of May 2006. In an attempt to provide continuity, during the usual procession to the vestibule, they carried some of the sacramental items that were going to be placed in the new church. In addition, Father Yeazel asked them to sit in silence for three minutes to capture all the memories of the old church.

The construction of the new facility began in May 2005. It was built to accommodate 900 people. The old church accommodated 360.
Upon entering the new church, one cannot help but notice the beautiful stained glass window in the light-filled sanctuary. The window is from Germany. The background consists of a yellow, blue and purple sunset. A 12-foot cross from Italy is centered in the window. An eight-foot corpus of Jesus will be added to the cross in the near future. Other stained glass windows in the sanctuary include Our Lady of the Rosary and the Five Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary.

Situated in the back of the sanctuary is a chapel with sliding glass doors imprinted with crosses. The doors can be left open to accommodate overflow crowds at Christmas and at other times of the year. Above the vestibule is located a choir loft which also includes a rehearsal room. The organ and the chairs from the old church have been moved to the new building. Several hundred more pipes are being added to the organ to enhance the sound.

A computerized audio-visual system has been added to the building and is controlled from the choir loft. The basement area of the church building houses the meeting room, which accommodates up to 300 people and will be used for church dinners and other events. Surrounding the meeting room are 13 new classrooms designed to meet the needs of the 750 students in the religious education program at Holy Cross. Also surrounding the meeting room are a toddler room, a teen lounge, a research library for the religious education program and the children’s chapel.

The children’s chapel is a sacred space that the children of the parish can call their own. The children will leave the sanctuary during Mass to hear their own Scripture readings in the chapel. “We wanted the little children to know they didn’t need to be in church, sitting, standing or kneeling behind 1,000 giants,” explained Father Yeazel. “We wanted them to have their own place that is holy.” The chapel will also be used when religious education teachers want take their students out of the classroom for prayer.

Stan Blanchfield has spent a good part of his life as a parishioner at Holy Cross — 43 years. He is impressed by the way the new church has been constructed. “It’s been a very professional and organized construction,” he remarked. “They’ve done a beautiful job.”

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