St. Mary’s Church in Greeneville seeks gifts for its 100th anniversary

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St. Mary’s Church in the Greeneville section of Norwich on Friday October 14, 2022. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day) Buy reprints

Norwich ― It was to be a year of celebration for St. Mary Church parish in Greeneville, with the 100th anniversary celebration of its stately church at 70 Central Ave. in December.

Parish leaders planning the occasion hoped to include a typical capital fund campaign for repairs and improvements. But a structural assessment last March changed all that.

With a dangerous collapse of the 100-year-old concrete at the top of the bell tower and along the exterior limestone and masonry facade of the church, the parish was faced with the monumental decision of whether to raise approximately 1, $5 million to save the building or close and start over somewhere else.

“It was very alarming. The pinnacles were on the verge of collapsing. The whole thing was so fragile,” Pastor Father Bob Washabaugh said of the 18-foot-tall decorative wedges atop the steeple.

Washabaugh said the decision was unanimous to restore the church and a three-year pledging campaign began, beginning with the first year’s cost of $760,000 needed to repair the steeple. The tower has been shrouded in scaffolding and blue shielding to contain falling debris, and a chain-link fence blocks off the entire front entry area for added security. The side doors of the church and the emergency exits remain open to allow religious services to continue.

Loring and Son Masonry Contractors Restoration of New London, who also carried out repairs to St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in New London, are carrying out the work on Greeneville Church.

Once the scaffolding was in place, the crews removed the pinnacles at the top four corners of the tower. Some of the pieces crumbled during removal, Washabaugh said. Loring will create molds to reproduce the pinnacles to be installed later.

The entire tower will be repointed and repaired from top to bottom in the first phase, Washabaugh said. Subsequent phases will address cracking and crumbling along the remainder of the church facade, repair the rosette window in the front, improve heating and ventilation, and improve accessibility.

Washabaugh said it was important to start fundraising with the support of parishioners and the Diocese of Norwich. Pledge brochures are printed in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole. Donations can be made online at saintmarychurchrestoration.com or by regular mail.

For future phases, the church has already applied for a grant from the Norwich Community Development Corp. through the Norwich Revitalization Program and will seek a grant from Preservation Connecticut and seek support from other foundations.

“It’s a very, very historic building, and it’s a beautiful building,” Washabaugh said.

More importantly, he said, Saint Mary’s has been a cornerstone of the Greeneville neighborhood, a welcoming home for immigrants since 1845 when the parish was founded, the first Saint Mary’s Church east of the Connecticut River.

Fundraisers, including the parish’s signature international holidays, are in the works. The centenary celebration is scheduled for Sunday, December 11, with a special Mass and likely a celebratory dinner to follow.

Saint Mary recently took part in a video program by the Diocese of Norwich which highlights all of St. Mary’s churches in the diocese. St. Mary in Greeneville has no additional nickname, Washabaugh pointed out in the video, because it was the first Saint Mary parish in the diocese.

Founded in 1845, the first parish church was a short distance away on North Main Street, the current home of the Street Stuff motorcycle showroom and the longtime former home of AP Savage Hardware.

Still a parish dominated by immigrants, first Irish and then many other groups, the parish soon outgrew its small home. The new stone church was consecrated on December 10, 1922. The church now has masses in Spanish and Haitian Creole, as well as a bilingual English-Spanish mass. Cape Verdean immigrants, who speak Portuguese, mostly attend Spanish Mass because the languages ​​are similar, Washabaugh said.

Haitian and Spanish parishioners added their voices to the video, with one telling how he grew up and married in a Catholic church and continues to practice his faith in his new country.

Alvania Dejada, the parish’s information and evangelism director, said the parish’s first priority is its people. The church is the place where people from diverse backgrounds come together and share their experiences.

“We’re all one big family,” Dejada said in the video.

[email protected]

How to make a donation to the restoration of the Sainte-Marie church:

Online pledges and one-time donations can be made at saintmarychurchrestoration.com.

Donations by mail: Make checks payable to St. Mary’s Church and send to St. Mary’s Church, 70 Central Ave., Norwich, CT 06360.

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