Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Construct-1153610304_rkm_3197The new interior of St. Ann in Avon (Bob Mullen photo)

BLOOMFIELD – Most priests who serve in parishes throughout the Archdiocese didn’t attend the seminary because they wanted to supervise construction projects. Yet, this year alone, pastors will be involved in overseeing approximately 20 significant maintenance, improvement or major construction projects.

Two pastors, one in Manchester and the other in Avon, know all about such projects.

"I went into the priesthood because I love to minister [to] the people in a variety of pastoral ways," said Father Steven Sledesky, Pastor of the linked parishes St. Bridget and St. Bartholomew in Manchester, who recently oversaw the completion of a major roofing project.

St. Bridget Church had just completed a capital campaign and raised funds to resurface the parking lots, install a new organ and upgrade the air conditioning system. Then, the roof on the auditorium started to leak.

"We had patched it [several times], trying to put off what was inevitable," said Father Sledesky. "We finally came to the decision that we had to reroof the auditorium. While we were looking at that, we also looked at the church roof, which hadn’t been done in probably 40 years; that’s pretty much the life expectancy of a roof."

The church roof wasn’t leaking, but the church has a beautiful wooden ceiling, he said. "All it would take would be one leak and you’d destroy the beauty of that interior ceiling. We knew the roof was old and we didn’t want to take a chance."

"We thought we might be able to get away without [doing] the steeple," said Father Sledesky. But on the basis of the roofer’s inspection, the steeple was done, too. "That was the most expensive part of the project."

The project involved special equipment, safety gear and the closing off of a portion of Main Street, requiring police presence for directing traffic, he said. So, the parish also decided to paint the steeple while the equipment was on site.

"Parishioners are very supportive," said Father Sledesky. "They maintain houses and they know that things have to be done. They take pride in their parish. They want it to be safe, comfortable; and they want it to be watertight."

"So when they are asked, and it’s truly a need, they are very gracious and generous," he said.

Many parishioners also donate their time and talent to church improvement projects.

St. Bridget has a building and grounds committee, made up of volunteers who help with bid requests, getting estimates and determining the best way to approach a project.

"I am grateful for their support and their wisdom," said Father Sledesky. "We have people on the [building and] grounds committee who are engineers, electricians, or [are involved in] a variety of different trades." They have the professional skills to discern, among other things, what’s a good contract.

Pastors also receive support from the Archdiocese when embarking on significant renovation or improvement projects. The Fiscal Office reviews proposed contracts, verifies licenses and ensures that adequate liability and injury coverage is in place. Archbishop Henry J. Mansell ultimately gives the approval to go ahead with the project.

For smaller projects, parishioners frequently see a need, step forward, and volunteer. Recently, a parishioner who owns a security company donated and installed a security system. A former electrician who maintains his license oversees the facility’s energy system. Another parishioner painted the lower walls of the gymnasium.

Parishioners at St. Bartholomew in Manchester also take an active role. Last summer, that parish completed a project that modified an awkward entryway where people frequently tripped and sometimes fell.

"We are very fortunate in this parish to have a builder," said Father Sledesky. "He did all the design work and didn’t charge us for that. It was a very big project but nicely done."

At St. Ann in Avon, parishioners also lend a hand to help make facility improvements. St. Ann’s Cares is a branch of the church’s social justice committee that manages a throng of volunteers who renovate and upgrade group homes, shelters and other facilities. Last year, those volunteers turned their attention to the lower level of their church. They created religious education classrooms and a room that houses the Avon Food Pantry.

Archbishop Mansell celebrated Mass and blessed a major infrastructure construction project in December at St. Ann. The $3.5 million project added 2,500 square feet. Most of the added space will be used for gatherings; a vesting area and two reconciliation rooms are also part of the project.

Father John W. McHugh, Pastor of St. Ann Church in Avon, is a former philosophy professor at St. Joseph College in West Hartford. He said he used the logic inherent in philosophy in overseeing the work.

The church needed a new heating and air conditioning system, along with insulation and water pipe repairs. The renovations included the tearing down of the interior of the church.

While he admitted that the project involved plenty of painstaking hard work and endless meetings, he said, "The end product is all very worth it."

He added, "It is a great honor to have the opportunity, these days, to redesign and reconstruct the church."

He also is grateful for Russ Koch, a parishioner and recently retired CEO of a local chemical company, who has been helping to manage the project. Mr. Koch and members of the building committee, finance committee and the capital campaign committee have been working together to bring the project to successful completion.

There were some major hurdles along the way. "When you dismantle an existing structure, you find a lot of things," said Mr. Koch.

Shortly after construction got under way last May, it was discovered that the nave and ceiling of the church, built in 1957, were not insulated. Accordingly, plans were modified to install insulation in areas that were opened for the construction.

"The project is the culmination of three years’ work," said Mr. Koch. "The emphasis was on the religious aspect for the parish community; [to facilitate] a moving experience in the beautiful building edifying our God and what we believe in."

"I’m proud of the people of St. Ann’s," said Father McHugh. He added that the fact that the parish was able to raise the needed funds "is a testimony to the parishioners and a demonstration of the faith they have in St. Ann Parish."

Across the Archdiocese, the number of construction projects is down by about 35 to 40 percent from three years ago, when the economy was better, said Pat Egan, parish support coordinator for the Archdiocese. The scope of the remaining projects is similar but the numbers are down.

"If you are a homeowner, [you know] it doesn’t end. There is always something that needs to be tended to," said Father Sledesky. "So you have to pick and choose; what can be done right now; what’s affordable; and what’s reasonable.

Father McHugh agreed. "You do what you have to do," he said.