Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted celebrates the Eucharist during an Oct. 29 dedication Mass for parish renovations at St. Andrew the Apostle in Chandler. (Courtesy of Mark Idzik)

CHANDLER — After months of extensive renovation, parishioners at St. Andrew the Apostle now have a sanctuary that better conveys the timeless beauty of the mission-style exterior that has made the East Valley church a landmark for decades.

The $600,000 renovation effort included installing a crucifix crafted by local artisan Dean Dwyer; placement of a new, marble tabernacle beneath the crucifix; widening of the area around the altar; relocation of the choir area; and the establishment of a Marian shrine. A statue of Our Lady of Fatima will arrive in time for the Dec. 8 Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Statues of St. Peter, St. Andrew and St. John as well as another statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary are forthcoming.

It’s all part of a trend over the last decade or so in the Phoenix Diocese and across the country as parishes return to an ethos in which crucifixes and tabernacles are placed in the center of the sanctuary. St. Timothy Parish in Mesa and Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral underwent similar changes several years ago with both churches installing large crucifixes and moving the tabernacle to a central spot up front.

Fr. Robert Aliunzi, AJ, pastor of St. Andrew, said the renovation was focused on emphasizing the centrality of the Eucharist. One of the concerns he and others at the parish shared was that people were unsure if or how they should genuflect to show reverence to the Blessed Sacrament.

Prior to the renovation, the tabernacle was off to the right and among the pews. It was not uncommon to find people leaning against the tabernacle as they waited to find a seat, said Fr. Aliunzi, a member of the Apostles of Jesus Missionaries.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted dedicated the new altar during an Oct. 29 Mass when the substantial changes to St. Andrew’s were revealed for the first time to parishioners. The lights of the sanctuary remained off until after the bishop placed relics of St. Andrew and St. Pius X in the altar and poured the sacred oil over the altar to dedicate it.

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In his homily, he thanked Fr. Aliunzi for “his personal joy in the Gospel and his pastoral leadership that has brought this endeavor to completion.”

The bishop also encouraged the faithful to welcome Jesus into their lives. “Open your soul to Him, too, when you come into this beautiful church throughout the day, and spend time with Him truly present here in the tabernacle,” Bishop Olmsted said.

He referred to the words of St. Peter, brother of the parish patron, St. Andrew: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Those words, the bishop said, “explain why we make so many sacrifices and expend so much effort to build and renovate beautiful places like this.”

Robert Corwin, director of communication and youth and young adult evangelization at St. Andrew, said the remodeling was a long time coming.

“Our goal was to help the parish to focus not only our eyes, but our full attention on Jesus Christ,” Corwin said. “Now that the physical renovation has taken place, it’s time to work toward the spiritual renovation that must take place.”

Fr. Aliunzi echoed that sentiment in his comments at the dedication Mass. “All this beauty will come to nothing if it does not enhance our journey to heaven,” he said. “We will begin now and continue it until each one of us reaches that ultimate goal of heaven.”

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Fr. Rob Clements, who oversaw the renovation at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral during 2006-2010, said the image of Christ crucified near the altar transcends cultures, language and time. “If I’m supposed to put my life on the altar of sacrifice with His, having the visual means a lot more — it’s more of a sermon than anything I could do,” said Fr. Clements, who is a member of the diocesan liturgical

Matt Smith, who served on the design team at St. Andrew’s, said he’s already seeing the impact of the renovation. “People had stopped genuflecting — there was confusion about where to genuflect. Now that the tabernacle is clearly in front, people are genuflecting and praying before Mass where before that was very rare to see.”

Bill Marcotte, pastoral associate and director of adult ministries, agreed. “I think the new crucifix will help us focus better on the passion, death and resurrection of Christ,” Marcotte said. “I think as we look at the crucifix and tabernacle together it just centers us more.”

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