Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Creative Way to Preserve Sacred Architecture

On the Move

Landmark Church Survives the Wrecker’s Ball By Being Transported to Georgia


NORCROSS, Ga. — All kinds of things happen to churches that close: If they’re not torn down they might be sold to different congregations or be turned into other types of facilities.

In Buffalo, N.Y., a historic church is being preserved in an unusual way — it’s being moved to an area of the country and an archdiocese where the Catholic population is expanding rapidly and booming with well over 900,000 Catholics.

If the plan works, St. Gerard’s will be the largest building in the United States ever taken down, moved and reconstructed.

The move to the Atlanta suburb of Norcross, Ga. — 900 miles away — is more than an engineering feat. It’s a testimony to preserving a magnificent church and using it for its original purpose: the worship of God.

Mary Our Queen Catholic Church in Norcross was founded in 1994 with 70 families. It now has 750 families but still uses its small, temporary church building.

Parishioners raised capital toward constructing a much larger permanent edifice. Desiring a traditional style that would incorporate elements saved from other churches, they had a prominent architect design it.

“Then we saw pictures of St. Gerard’s in the Buffalo Diocese,” said Father David Dye, pastor of Mary Our Queen. “It looked like the building the architect drew.”

Bill Harrison of Harrison Design Associates agreed.

St. Gerard’s, which was closed in 2008, is a one-third scale of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, one of Rome’s four major basilicas. The church is 144 feet long, 83 feet wide and 75 feet high. The interior’s 12 solid granite columns are 30 feet high and 3 feet in diameter.

Father Dye and Harrison traveled to Buffalo for a firsthand look at the church, which is named after 11th-century St. Gerard Sagredo, the first bishop of Hungary.

When Father Dye stepped inside, his eyes went immediately to the dome in the sanctuary, “and there’s the crowning of Mary,” filling the dome.

Father Dye, because of his parish’s name, took it as a sign.

He proposed buying the church and moving it to Georgia.

“I was totally amazed, thinking this was a bizarre idea,” recalled St. Gerard’s last pastor, Father Francis Mazur. “But when Father Dye walked into the sanctuary and saw Mary, Our Queen in the dome, he knew this was the building. I’m happy the faith of the founders and the testimony of the people who built that great church will live on 900 miles south. It’s a testimony of the strength of our Catholic faith, and our people here have supported this move enthusiastically.”

Saved by Relocation

Father Mazur describes the Italian Renaissance edifice, built of Indiana limestone in 1911, as “absolutely gorgeous.” It has an interior of travertine marble, ornate plasterwork, gleaming coffered ceilings, and 46 exceptional stained-glass windows. Along the walls the medallion portraits of the popes through Paul VI are depicted just as they are in St. Paul’s in Rome.

“This church is beautifully chaste and pure in its designs,” said Father Dye. “It’s very ornate, very Catholic, yet very simple.”

“We are preserving a building instead of knocking it down,” said Father Mazur. “People will still be able to reverence the sacred art and architecture in another place.”

Calculations showed that it would cost an estimated $40 million or more to build the new church according to the architect’s similar design, but to move and reconstruct this church would be around $15 million, considerably less cost.

When former St. Gerard parishioner and trustee Richard Ciezki heard St. Gerard’s would be saved, he first wondered if he was hearing right, then had “immediately a heart filled with joy that the church would be able to be used for the purpose it was originally built for,” he said, noting the faith and work of the German immigrants who built it.

Mary Our Queen parishioners like Mike Hickey, who with his wife, Susan, was a founding parishioner, were equally enthusiastic.

“It’s a masterpiece that needs to be saved,” Hickey said after visiting the church in Buffalo. “There was great detail attended to in building that church, and there’s no way to re-create it now. Even the acoustics are a choirmaster’s dream.”

Source: National Catholic Register

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