Connecticut Church Gives Pride of Place to the Eucharist

TRUMBULL—History was made this year during a church renovation. Renowned architect Duncan Stroik noted that the retablo gracing the sanctuary behind the altar in St. Catherine of Siena Church “is the first new limestone retablo in 60 years” to be installed in a church in the United States. Carved of Indiana limestone, the 17-ton ornamental retablo, or reredos, is the centerpiece of the renovation to put “Christ at the center” of this Trumbull, Connecticut, church.

In front of this retablo masterpiece stands the new altar. For Father Joseph Marcello, the pastor, the inspiration sprang from one of his favorite churches in Rome, the Basilica of St. Mary Major and its Pauline Chapel, home of the shrine of Salus Populi Romani — Mary, Protectress of the Roman People.

The major renovation, which Stroik designed in collaboration with Father Marcello, began with the goal of putting “Christ at the center” of the sanctuary. In a 1997 renovation, the tabernacle had been moved to a side chapel which had been added to the church proper.

Stroik said it was key to return the Eucharist to its proper place. “The most important place is the sanctuary, the place of the altar, the Blessed Sacrament. That was crucial.” That’s precisely what Father Marcello told parishioners: “The tabernacle and altar are the genesis of all the design. We wanted to provide a design that put Christ in the center.”

Pastor and architect worked together on the overall design that included side shrines, repurposing the side chapel with liturgical significance, and making connections to saints and ancient churches in Italy.

The project was announced on the Solemnity of the Assumption 2017. Following a year of planning, construction began in August 2018 and was completed in March 2019. The project was entirely funded by legacy gifts: One family gave the altar, another family gave the St. Joseph Shrine, and another gave the tabernacle, etc. All legacy gifts will be recorded on a large bronze plaque that will be permanently installed in the narthex this year.

According to Stroik, the completed project reflects as much on the pastor’s vision as it does on the deep riches of ecclesial art.

“Father Marcello is a priest who is passionate about art and architecture,” Stroik told the Register. “He’s very knowledgeable. He had huge amounts of input into the design and ideas about what everything symbolized and how everything can be put brought together” for this church to symbolize the Church. Past and present are tied together because the pastor “wanted to reuse some of the artwork the church had” through polychroming and setting the art in new contexts “to beautify them, make them more prominent.”

By Joseph Pronechen  |  National Catholic Register