Midtown Manhattan Church Completes Restoration

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

NEW YORK — The recent restoration of historic St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street here has been completed and is receiving many compliments. Since the reopening of the upper church for the Aug. 23 Mass for the solemn profession, visitors have seen many upgrades and additions.

The church had been in serious need of a facelift, said Jerome Massimino, OFM, pastor, who is proud of the changes to the church.

“I think Kevin Tortorelli, OFM, described it perfectly when he said, ‘What we did was draw out the church’s natural beauty,’” Jerome said. 

Painting, Repairs, Additions

The renovations, in addition to repainting of the entire church, included:
• Repairing of cracked walls and broken plaster 
• Repair of cracks and cleaning of the Great Mosaic

“We found that the mosaic had many cracks and realized that we were doing the repairs in the knick of time,” Jerome said. 

• Installation of new lighting for the Great Mosaic, sanctuary and side aisles, which have been described as beautiful, said Timothy Shreenan, OFM, the parish’s director of liturgy and communications.  Final modifications to the electrical system in the church were made last week.

The new sanctuary appointments are modeled on the existing side altars, dedicated to the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, according to Timothy. 

• Replacement of broken, noisy kneelers 

• Installation of the tabernacle once housed in the Franciscan’s minor seminary in Callicoon, N.Y.

The tabernacle, more than 80 years old, was the centerpiece of the magnificent chapel dedicated in 1927 at St. Joseph’s Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon. From 1901, St. Joseph’s served as the minor seminary for the Franciscans of Holy Name Province until it closed in 1972. The tabernacle was preserved and will now find its new home at St. Francis of Assisi, the parish headquarters of Holy Name Province. 

“The tabernacle fits naturally in the sanctuary space here, “Jerome said, adding that for some years it had been in the old Francis Chapel, in Providence, R.I. 

The bright gold finish is decorated with semi-precious stones and reliefs of seraph angels on the doors. The upper part is reminiscent of a medieval cathedral or cloister, with arches containing relief figures of Franciscan saints, and a large central portico suitable for holding a crucifix or monstrance.

• Installation of a new ambo, altar and tabernacle platform

“Our new altar is constructed of Italian marble with two pedestals supporting the mensa. On each pedestal are mosaics of wheat and grapes, symbols of the Eucharistic bread and wine,” Timothy said.

Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, was the first to celebrate Mass on the new altar, Jerome said.

The marble tabernacle platform upon which the tabernacle sits features a wheat-and-grape design superimposed by the Greek tau cross, used by St. Francis of Assisi as his signature, Tim said.

The new ambo is also constructed of marble. On the front there is a cross of gold mosaic, surrounded by symbols of the four evangelists, also in gold. The symbols are: Ox (St. Luke, upper left); Eagle (St. John, upper right); Lion (St. Mark, lower left); and Angel (St. Matthew, lower right).

• Created a new choir area which, Jerome said, “gives us more flexibility.”

Four New Shrines
In addition to the many upgrades to sections of the upper church, which was last renovated in 1992, four new shrines have been added. They memorialize:
• St. Anthony of Padua
• St. Andrew Kim of Korea, who was canonized in 1984
• St. Lorenzo Ruiz of the Philippines, canonized in 1981
• Victims of Sept. 11, 2001

Two of the shrines are being blessed this month.

On Sept. 21, Jerome presided at  Mass for the Korean community on the feast of of St. Andrew Kim.

On Sept. 26, a Mass will be celebrated in honor of the Sept. 28 feast of St. Lorenzo Ruiz. Julian Jagudilla, OFM, of Raleigh, N.C., will preach at this Mass. Information about St. Lorenzo and St. Andrew can be found on printed cards available at the hospitality desk of St. Francis of Assisi Church, 135 West 31st St.

Because the parish has large Korean and Filipino communities, the shrines are “a significant gesture to show that we love the communities and we want them to feel that this is their home,” Jerome said.

The renovation took place during the summer and was completed in time for last month’s Mass of Solemn Profession. It was financed by proceeds from the archdiocese’s bicentennial campaign and by a “modest mini campaign” that Jerome conducted. 

Church_Renovation_099LRGVincent Laviano, OFM, vicar, worked closely with the project manager for Baker Liturgical Art, LLC, which displays photos of the chapel in St. Francis of Assisi Friary in its brochure.

Jerome said he feels very privileged to be pastor and guardian at St. Francis Church, where he is able to “see the weekend community come together to be more of a parish than it had been, and also to live with a wonderful group of friars.” 

All are welcome at a Sept. 29 tour of the church, led by Timothy. The 2 p.m. event is one of many programs offered by the parish to acquaint people with the church’s history, friars and traditions.

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.