VESTAL — “We’ve come a long way,” said Matt Szeliga, business administrator at Our Lady of Sorrows Church.
As he stood inside a building teeming with construction workers, Szeliga remembered a muddy day a year ago September when ground was broken for the new Our Lady of Sorrows Church. Bishop Robert J. Cunningham was there then and he will return Dec. 22 for the dedication Mass at 11 a.m.
The parish-funded project has yielded a new church complex on 15 acres of land at 801 Main Street, the site of the former Our Lady of Sorrows School, about a mile from the current church campus at 157 Clark Street. The new church is the first built in the diocese since construction on Holy Cross Church in DeWitt began in 2005. Discussions about building a new church to meet the needs of the 1,500-family parish began more than a dozen years ago, under then-pastor Father John Putano. Final planning and construction took place under current pastor Father John Kurgan.
Our Lady of Sorrows School was built on the Main Street site decades ago and has been closed for several years. With plenty of space to build there, the new church was connected to the school building at the gym. Parish offices will soon be in the new building. A one-story rectory will be built next year on an adjoining lot to bring all operations to the Main Street site. After that, the former church property will be sold.
Father Kurgan thinks the project is a positive move. He’s said it’s partly a response to the reduction of the number of priests. With a larger church, fewer Masses will be necessary each weekend; this could free the pastor to help at other parishes if needed. Father Kurgan also expects new opportunities for parishioners to spend more time at church. Adults can attend educational programs or sit in a soon-to-come café after Mass while waiting for children during religious education classes.
With less than a month to go before the dedication of the new church, there are a lot of finishing touches to be made. During a recent visit, several industrial lifts extended close to 30 feet toward the ceiling, and a saw buzzed occasionally as pieces of wood were cut to fit into place. There was little dust or debris on the floor, due in large part to parishioners who have been helping out. They’re part of what Szeliga calls “sweat equity,” people who’ve been on site to clean up after the workers, so all they worry about is completing their jobs.
Parishioner Don Toner, an IBM retiree, has spent hours pushing a broom and taking debris to the dumpster. He’s also assisted workers with other parts of the project. He’s proud of his part in the new building. He said he likes that the church’s style is neither modern nor Gothic, but rather “a good mix of both.”
It seems the entire parish had some part in the new church. Many donated to fundraising efforts toward the $3.5-million dollar facility. Some provided in-kind services with their businesses, such as parking lot materials. Others gave pipe for drainage or got down in the trenches to help dig the holes. Szeliga said part of the memorial plaque should remember the countless parishioners who provided prayer through the entire project.
Father Kurgan said there have been some changes since the original design was developed, including windows instead of a glass tower for the facade that faces Main Street. Parishioners have had input in some of the planning of the new church.
“In the beginning when we first started the process with Father Putano we asked, ‘What would you like to see in the church?’” Father Kurgan said. But he added that once the project was underway, parishioners were asked more specific questions based on the design team’s work. He cited a couple of examples.
“Here’s three pew companies with their pews. Which of those three pews do you like best? Not, ‘Go out and find a pew and start from scratch.’ You just can’t do that. You get three or four paint colors. Which do you like best?” Father Kurgan said. “Then give them three or four choices of things that would all be acceptable and would work.”
Without the carpet down and pews installed, the church looked huge. There will be space for 600 people, with a choir area to the right side. On the left, there’s a brick “living water” baptismal font with a backlit window. A brick wall segment goes from floor to ceiling behind the altar. A life-sized crucifix from the old church will hang there with the tabernacle below.
Father Kurgan sprinkled a bit of humor into an interview about the church. When asked, “What about the altar?” he quickly answered, “We’re having one.”
The main altar, like the ambo and the walls around the inside of the church, will look familiar but they’re actually new. They’ll be oak and be stained much like furnishings from a 1984 renovation at the old church. The old altar and ambo will be used in a 100-seat chapel joined to the main church by a glass wall. It can be used for overflow and “cry room” seating if needed.
There will be 25 stained glass windows, most from the current church. Two new angel windows will be above and to the sides of the tabernacle wall. They were salvaged from another church more than a decade ago. In the chapel, a round window from the old church is behind the altar and tabernacle. Facing a side courtyard, there will be windows of two new saints of the region, Marianne Cope and Kateri Tekakwitha.
A wall in the gathering space some 60 feet long and 25 feet high presented a challenge. There, shiny tiles form two shrines for statues of Our Lady of Sorrows on one side and the Holy Family on the other.
Heating and cooling systems are energy efficient. Traditional fixtures hang from the ceiling with more modern lights on the side. Both use energy efficient bulbs. The church, including the restrooms, is handicapped accessible.
Parishioners and the public are welcome to the dedication Mass at the new Our Lady of Sorrows Church, 801 Main St., Vestal , on Dec. 22 at 11 a.m. An open house and reception will follow the Mass.