St. Louise celebrates newly renovated church

Published Apr 17, 2013 at 10:57 am (Updated Apr 17, 2013 at 10:57 am)

St. Louise de Marillac marked the opening of its newly renovated church with a Mass of blessing and dedication on April 7, with The Most Reverend David A. Zubik, Bishop of Pittsburgh, as the principal celebrant.

In addition to Bishop Zubik, Father Michael A. Caridi, pastor at St. Louise, Father John Naugle, parochial vicar at St. Louise, and numerous priests, deacons, and other religious associated with the parish were in attendance.

Speaking to the standing room crowd prior to Mass, Bishop Zubik commented that the dedication of a church is something “not frequently seen” by most Catholics. He explained the symbolism behind the various elements of the dedication, from the blessing and sprinkling of water on the congregation as a sign of repentance and a reminder of Baptism, to the pouring of Sacred Chrism, a holy oil, on the altar to consecrate it. After the anointing, the approximately 1,000 persons in attendance venerated the altar – with a kiss or a touch – as a symbol of their relationship with God.

Marylou Heiser of South Fayette said she appreciated Bishop Zubik taking time to describe what was going to occur during the ceremony. “The church was beautiful before, and now it’s even better. I love everything about it and I’m so proud to be a member,” Heiser said.

Father Michael A. Caridi said, “The idea to renovate the church interior grew out of the Jubilee Capital Campaign that was initiated in 2008 in preparation for the parish’s 50th Anniversary. The goal of the campaign was to update several of our facilities, and it was only natural that the church be included.”

Father Caridi explained that the project involved retaining an architect who would develop a design that respected the unique beauty of the church, and yet at the same time would enhance the worship experience by providing more direct sight lines to the altar, the crucifix, and tabernacle. Once Astorino was retained as architect, they brought on a liturgical design firm, Rohn and Associates, who were instrumental in creating the sanctuary design. Finally, the Mosites Construction Corporation was chosen by the St. Louise Finance Council to complete the project, which cost approximately $1.5 million.

Work on the project began on Jan. 2, 2013. During construction, weekday Masses were offered in a temporary chapel created in the Parish Center and weekend Masses were held in the school gymnasium, the site of the parish’s first church.

Founded on May 25, 1961, by Bishop (and later Cardinal) John Wright, and with no facilities available, St. Louise de Marillac Parish celebrated its first Sunday Mass at the Upper St. Clair Township Municipal Building on June 3, 1961. After the Diocese of Pittsburgh acquired five acres of land on McMurray Road from the Baldesberger family, and St. Louise’s first pastor, Father John Schonhardt, purchased five additional acres, construction on a new church and school began. The school was completed and opened to students in September 1963. The first Mass was celebrated in the church on Christmas 1963.

Ground breaking for the current church took place on March 15, 1980, the feast day of St. Louise de Marillac. Designed as a “pilgrim church welcoming earthly travelers on a spiritual journey,” the new church was dedicated on Aug. 23, 1981, with Bishop Vincent M. Leonard and the pastor, Father Robert Reardon, presiding.

While the renovation project has preserved the unique architectural features of the church, design elements have been incorporated to assist worshippers in focusing on the altar, crucifix and tabernacle. A hand-painted, carved wooden relief now surrounds the tabernacle, and on either side of the tabernacle are statues of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, which were moved from the former chapel area.

A striking new feature in the church is a Holy Spirit relief designed by Lou Astorino, the architect for the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in the Casa Santa Marta, where Pope Francis resides and worships. According to Father Caridi, “The Holy Spirit (relief) in our church is the same one the Pope sees every day. As far as I know, we are the only other church outside the Vatican to be blessed with that particular image of the Holy Spirit.”

Father Caridi commented, “Overall, I knew from the start that the renovated church would be beautiful, but the final result far exceeds what I expected. My favorite part of the renovation is the beautiful new altar and tabernacle designed by Rohn and Associates and that the overall design seems to pull people closer together around the altar.”

Bethel Park resident Christine Makowski, whose parents were among the first members of the parish, called the renovation and dedication “unbelievable.”

“I love being closer to the altar, it’s more intimate,” said Makowski. “It’s such an incredible blessing to be part of this whole thing.”

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