Christ at the Center is a project which will move the tabernacle containing Jesus Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament from the side chapel to the very center of our sanctuary, and at the same time will significantly enhance the sanctuary of our church by prominently featuring the statues of Our Lady and St. Joseph, and of St. Catherine of Siena and St. John Vianney, placing them before us as models and intercessors.
It will give us a new Altar of Sacrifice, which will visibly contain an actual piece of bone taken from the body of St. Catherine of Siena, and it will place a magnificent new retablo, or high altar, to fill the space of the sanctuary wall, modeled on the altar which contains the icon of Our Lady, Health of the Roman People, Salus Populi Romani, at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome.
One generation built this church. Another generation renovated it. Many generations now have worshiped here, have come to know God’s love here, have received the Sacraments here, and have been buried from here. Now we look forward to bringing it to the next level of beauty and of faith.
Christ at the Center is now underway. Though many of the named giving opportunities have been reserved, a few still remain.
In this project, turn with confidence to Our Lady. She was the first Tabernacle, the Ark of the New Covenant, who bore within her immaculate womb the Son of God, who gives Himself to us in the Eucharist. We ask Our Lady’s help, and her intercession, as our parish looks toward honoring her Son, who is truly present in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.
God doesn’t need our buildings of stone, and wood, and glass – but He deserves them.
And so, with Mary’s prayers, we set out on this journey to do something beautiful for God.
A project to enhance and beautify the sanctuary of our parish church, placing Christ in the tabernacle at the center of the design, because He is the center
of our parish, of our families, and of our lives.
The Parish of Saint Catherine of Siena
Architectural renderings by Duncan G. Stroik, AIA
The enhancement and beautification of the sanctuary centers primarily around the installation of a new, custom-made limestone and marble retablo, the dimensions and design of which take architectural cues from the existing language of the church, and are inspired by the altar of Our Lady, Health of the Roman People at the Papal Basilica of St. Mary Major, in Rome.
In this new design, the existing corpus of the crucified Christ, original to the church, will be re-used and mounted to a newly-constructed cross of noble design, and centered within the retablo, against a backdrop of subtly veined gold and cream giallo reale scaligero marble.
Also, in a pediment at the top of the retablo will be placed the gilt wood dove of the Holy Spirit, which originally was affixed to the octagonal wooden tester which was suspended over the sanctuary prior to 1997. Since then, the dove has been located over the doors opening from the narthex to the nave, at the terminus of the church’s central aisle.
The retablo will also frame and draw the eye to the tabernacle, and it is planned that there will be stairs and a platform between the retablo and the tabernacle, allowing easier access to light the candles on either side of the tabernacle.
When the present altar of sacrifice was fabricated in the 1997 renovation, it was dimensioned so that the mensa of one of the former side altars could be used in it. In practice, this has resulted in an altar which, for the size of the sanctuary, various celebrants have found somewhat constrained.
A new altar is planned, made entirely of stone, and of more generous proportions to better fit the sanctuary. The parish has obtained from the Dominican Generalate in Rome an authenticated first-class relic of St. Catherine of Siena. The new altar will be of the “Roman” style, in which a frontal grille is placed in the body of the altar, so that the relic can be visible through the grille.
As the altar is the center and focal point of the sanctuary, and the place of liturgical action, the altar will be as noble and beautiful as possible, complementing the existing architecture of the church, yet standing out as the focal point of the sanctuary.
Parishioners have consistently commented that they would like to see “the statues in church again.” We have prepared renderings of shrines for the statues of Our Lady and of St. Joseph, to be placed where the former altars of Our Lady and St. Joseph were located. The shrines are envisioned basically as frames for the statues, to echo and complement the central retablo.
When the church was constructed, two statues were placed on the side walls of the church, where the sanctuary step meets the floor of the nave. These statues were of St. Catherine of Siena and of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (see below, under Memorial Chapel). We will return these statues to the sanctuary, on either side of the Retablo, substituting for the Sacred Heart a statue of St. John Vianney – fabricated and painted to exactly match the style of the existing statues – and our patroness, St. Catherine of Siena.
A note on the statue of St. John Vianney: Near the end of his life, when he was barely able to speak, St. John Vianney’s sermons would consist of little more than pointing to the tabernacle, and repeating the words “Il est là.” “He is there.” In this design, the hand of St. John Vianney will be pointing toward the tabernacle to draw the eye to the Eucharistic presence of Christ. St. John Vianney will also be vested in a purple stole, to recall his truly heroic ministry in the confessional.
This chapel which was added onto the right side of the church in 1997 has served since then as a place of reservation for the Blessed Sacrament. Near the peak of its outer wall, it features the three clerestory windows (Our Lady, St. Dominic, and St. Catherine of Siena) which originally were installed in the choir loft. On the chapel’s two side walls, there are a total of four stained glass windows (St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Edward the Confessor) all of which are original to the church and were relocated to this chapel at the time of its construction.
Several discussions and much thought have brought us to the idea of repurposing this chapel, after the tabernacle has been moved into the sanctuary, as a Memorial Chapel, dedicated to the memory of, and prayer for, everyone whose Funeral Mass has been celebrated at St. Catherine’s through the years.
The existing altar, dating to the 1997 renovation, will be moved into this chapel. Having measured the dimensions both of the existing altar and of the step which currently accommodates the tabernacle pedestal, the altar will fit perfectly onto this step, as if it had been made for it.
Since there will be a blank wall to be filled on the central wall of this chapel, in the space above the altar and below the clerestory windows, a simple triptych be constructed in wood, to frame and house the beautiful statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was donated at the time of the church’s construction by the Barvenik Family, who are still active parishioners. The re-introduction of the statue of the Sacred Heart, which matches the existing statuary in the church, will also be a meaningful link of our parish with the Consecration of the Diocese of Bridgeport to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which took place at the conclusion of Pope Francis’ recent Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Since many parishioners have asked for devotional candles in the church, we will add two tasteful, safe candle racks in this Memorial Chapel. This will encourage people to visit this chapel, to pray for the deceased (or to entrust any of their other intentions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus) and to light a candle.
Additionally, a Memorial Book will be added to the chapel, in the space directly across from the altar and triptych (just to the left of the chapel’s entrance doorway) which would list the name of every person whose Funeral Mass has been celebrated at St. Catherine’s through the years.
Finally, we will place a small replica of the Mater Ecclesiae mosaic image which overlooks St. Peter’s Square, on the wall above the Memorial Book, as a pro-life memorial to deceased unborn children, with a quote from St. John Paul II’s encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae.
[ A rendering of the Memorial Chapel to the left ]
The nave of our church is very beautiful. The stained glass windows have stood the test of time. They were serviced in the early 1990s, when the lead joints were strengthened and the discolored backing on the windows was removed. Some windows are showing signs of wear, but none need immediate attention.
In the nave we will add wooden surrounds around each of the Stations of the Cross, to complement the retablo and the shrines of Our Lady and St Joseph, and to emphasize the fourteen beautiful wooden carvings, which presently almost blend in to the stone block walls on which they hang – and also to add tastefully a plaque, with meditations on each of the Stations, so that people can make use of these meditations –from Blessed John Henry Newman – while making the Stations privately.
We will also add 12 Consecration Crosses to the walls of the nave, for use when the church is consecrated, and so that candles can be lighted there on the anniversary of the church’s consecration and at other major liturgical celebrations.
No modification is proposed to the narthex of the church, except for the addition of a large plaque commemorating the donors to this project. The plaque is will be placed on the wall directly opposite the door to the restroom: i.e. on the left, as one would enter through the main doors of the church. This placement, we feel, strikes a balance between giving due acknowledgement to our legacy donors, while also keeping this plaque relatively unobtrusive.