A crowd of about 500 people waited outside Sacred Heart Parish in Prescott on Nov. 4 for a 5 p.m. rededication of their church. Despite the crisp, cool fall air, some had been waiting outside for almost an hour for the chance to enter the worship space they hadn’t seen since Easter.
“We decided to rededicate the church because the whole inside of the church is virtually new,” said Fr. Kieran Kleczewski, the master of ceremonies and director of the diocesan Office of Worship.
He explained the rededication ceremony to the waiting congregants, likening the dedication of a church to a person who enters the church and receives Baptism, Confirmation and holy Communion.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted then led parishioners and guests into the dim space, where they saw a newly renovated floor, new pews, new stained-glass windows and walls — some walls were renovated and some removed to brighten the worship space.
During construction, the members of the Diocese of Phoenix’s oldest parish had been celebrating Mass in the school gym next door where they were able to view the progress, but not enter their church.
“All the work, all the sacrifices that have taken place through the last seven months, but a long time before that, too, have been to make this place one that is truly a house of prayer,” Bishop Olmsted said.
During the two-and-a-half-hour Mass, the bishop sprinkled and incensed the altar, church walls and the congregation and also blessed the marble altar, incensing and rubbing it with holy oils. The lights were then turned on, illuminating the space.
“Nothing is impossible for God,” said Claretian Father Irudayaraj “Raj” Britto, Sacred Heart pastor. “From day one, I always viewed this whole project as God’s project and we are here as His servants to do His will. Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
Claretian Father Darrin Merlino, the former Sacred Heart pastor who initiated the renovation, said the work came out “even better” than he expected. He said the reredos, or the wall behind the altar, was one of the items he liked, as well as the new marble altar and ambo.
“I was surprised how good it came out,” he said. “The altar looked good in pictures, but when you see it live it looks much more beautiful.”
Fr. Merlino said the baptistry was custom made for the church with four images on the sides — Noah’s ark, the parting of the Red Sea, Jesus’ Baptism and the piercing of His heart.
“Those are all four symbols that are in the baptismal rite that are on the baptistry itself,” Fr. Merlino said. “The holy water fonts are a replica of the holy water fonts from the old church. We took pictures of it, sent it to Italy and they copied it perfectly.”
The church, which by Mass time was filled to capacity, now seats 780 — slightly smaller for a dedicated sound booth. What parishioners probably will appreciate later about the $3 million-project is a new heating and air conditioning unit, new stairs and a new elevator. The ceiling was also replaced with a new acoustic lightweight metal.
“The sound is nice and quiet. The lighting is much better — it has a fresher, brighter feel to it,” Fr. Merlino said. “We opened up the walls, so it is lighter.”
“It is unbelievable,” 30-year parishioner Lilly Miley said of the renovation. “I felt like I was in heaven, if this is what heaven is like. And to see it filled with people. It is the openness I love, and everyone worked together.”
Miley’s husband, Doug, is the local artist painting the new stations of the cross, which he plans to complete by Easter.
Project manager Greg Watts said it was the Holy Spirit who really guided the project.
“We couldn’t do it without God behind us,” Watts said. “You think of the colors and everything and that was hard, but it all came to play.”