St. Thomas More dedicates ‘recreated’ church

DARIEN— The parishioners of St. Thomas More filled the pews Saturday for a Mass of Dedication as their new church was consecrated by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, who praised them and their pastor for their generosity and commitment to pass along the faith to future generations.

“We have come here to celebrate this remarkable next chapter in the life of your parish, my friends,” Bishop Caggiano said. “It is a moment made possible not simply because of your generosity, which is outstanding in so many ways, but also because of your commitment to your faith and to the fact that you have built a beautiful, dignified and reverent space so that these bricks can hold ‘these bricks’—the living stones of the Church that you and I form.”

Father Paul G. Murphy was praised for his vision, leadership and hard work during the 3-year project, which began on the 50th anniversary of the parish in 2016 with the “Preparing for the Next Generation” capital campaign.

The project completely recreated the original church, which was completed in 1973. The parish hall was also renovated and provided a temporary place of worship during the redesign of the sanctuary, nave and narthax.

There is a new altar of sacrifice, which contains a relic of the English martyr St. Edmund Campion, SJ, and ambo and baptismal font. Custom-made stained glass windows of the 12 Apostles surround the nave in the same position as DaVinci’s Last Supper.

Central to the new church is a crucifix and wood-carved statues created by a company in Oberammergau, a village in the Bavarian Alps renowned for its woodcarving since the 12th century. Father Murphy worked with the wood carver to design the corpus.

An altar of reserve, along with bronze Stations of the Cross, came from St. Madeleine  Sophie Parish outside of Philadelphia after it closed, along with devotional altars to the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph.

There is also a new all-digital organ along with a new security system, porcelain tile floor, pews, a state-of-the-art audio system, computer-controlled lighting, improved heating and air conditioning, exterior renovations, 8-foot mahogany entrance doors, new restrooms and a confessional room. The steeple was refurbished and its cross was re-gilded.

The pews, kneelers, Stations of the Cross, tabernacle cross, baptismal font and other liturgical furnishes that were replaced were donated to St. Peter’s Church in Ghana.

During his homily, Bishop Caggiano recalled a trip he made with his family to the Duomo Cathedral in Florence, when his young niece Patty disarmed him with the question, “Uncle Frank, why did they spend all this money building this beautiful church when there are so many poor people in the world they could have fed?” To which he promptly responded, “Be quiet and don’t talk in church.” She repeated the question again outside and he was at a loss to answer her.

“I fumbled, stumbled, said something and then suggested we go for gelato—that got her attention,” he said.

Only years later did he find a satisfactory response while he was studying at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He said that during the Middle Ages, when the faithful could neither read nor write, the cathedrals served as “living catechisms, where a person could come and in that architecture be swept up in a transcendence they could not read in a book.”

Photos by Amy Mortensen

“My hope is that this newly built church, your spiritual home, will be for you a true sanctuary,” he said. “That it will inspire you to grow in holiness by your prayers, your celebration of the sacraments, your fidelity to the Gospel and the teachings of the Church … and by your loving service to one another, all in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior.”

In his remarks, Father Murphy said, “It is a day of great joy and thanksgiving for all of St. Thomas More Parish.”

He thanked the bishop, consultants, committees and the parishioners “who so generously supported, patiently persevered and offered countless prayers for the successful culmination of not just a renovated church but, we might say, a ‘recreated’ parish church.”

He said that consecrating the new altar within the new walls claimed them as a place set apart because they were eternally consecrated to God “as a worthy place for him to dwell among us here on Earth, for this space is now declared forevermore holy ground, a living sanctuary.”

As in the sacrament of baptism, “Each of us made of earthly clay is once and for all declared sacred and for all time claimed to belong and be a sanctuary of God’s Holy Spirit.”

Father Murphy said that St. Thomas More, the patron of the parish, understood the fundamental link between the two sanctuaries — the Holy Spirit in us and God dwelling in his Church.

“Thomas More was as busy as any of us,” he said. He was a husband, father of five, lawyer, scholar, judge, speaker of Parliament and Chancellor.

“An yet in all of his busyness, and with all the burdens of worldly responsibilities, he made it his practice to attend Mass and receive Holy Communion every day of his life,” Father Murphy said. “Everything our patron saint ever said or did was ordered toward the salvation of his soul and the souls of those he loved.”

“Dwelling in our midst, here in this sacred space, the Lord continues to abide with us,” he said. “Every time we gather to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the priest consecrates the bread and wine, the Lord makes himself truly present on the altar in the Sacred Body and Precious Blood.”

Looking to the future, Father Murphy said, “Jesus Christ abides with us at all the great milestones of our life. It is here where infants will be baptized, youth will be confirmed, where couples will be joined together in marriage, where our sins are absolved and where we gather to commend our deceased loved ones to the infinite mercy of God, and to be renewed in our faith in eternal life.”

Trustee Joe Roxe recalled the challenges of the building project and said that the capital campaign had been far more successful than anticipated, “which to me is a vote of confidence in our pastor and a vote of confidence in the programs that the parish offers.”

“There are many surprises when you open an old building like this, and they are never  good surprises,” he said, recalling how an underground watercourse was discovered beneath the structure, which stopped all the work and required rerouting.

Roxe said, “I had a chance to observe Father Paul up close when we went through all this. He stood tall and when things got really bad, he didn’t explode, he dealt with it and he maintained a vision of what needed to be done. He compromised when compromise was necessary and he was transparent through the whole process, and I am very proud of him.” The parish erupted in a sustained round of applause for their pastor.

Robert Gartelman, chairman of the buildings and grounds committee, which oversaw the project, said, “Father Murphy had a vision for what the church should be. We decided we had to build something that was going to last, and it had to be something that looked better than the old church liturgically. Our main focus was to create a Catholic church that looks Catholic.”

For Gartelman, who was involved in the project since its inception, it was a labor of love for a parish he has belonged to almost 45 years, since he moved to Connecticut.

It holds a profound spiritual meaning for him. His parents were buried from the church and major events in his family’s life were centered there.

“I have always believed it is a great place to worship,” he said. “And the community of people who attend this church is what has kept me here all this time.”

Addressing the packed church, in his final comments, Bishop Caggiano said, “My prayer for you, my friends, is that this place will resound to the glory of God, that this place will be the place where you will welcome all your sisters and brothers who are seeking more in life, who are seeking a higher purpose, a life that has a true intention that cannot be held by this world. May this place be a beacon of hope and joy and peace to those whose hearts are broken and troubled. It is a beautiful place, and it will be made ever more beautiful as our numbers continue to grow at St. Thomas More…one person at a time.”