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    Saturday, July 13, 2024

    Saint Mary Church in Greeneville seeks 100th anniversary gifts

    St. Mary Church in the Greeneville section of Norwich Friday, October 14, 2022. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Norwich ― This was to be a year of celebration for St. Mary Church parish in Greeneville, with the 100th anniversary celebration of its majestic church at 70 Central Ave. coming in December.

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

    With dangerously crumbling in the 100-year-old concrete at the top of the bell tower and along the limestone and masonry exterior facade of the church, the parish faced the monumental decision of whether to raise an estimated $1.5 million to save the building or close it and start over somewhere else.

    “It was very alarming. The pinnacles were about to collapse. The whole thing was so fragile,” Pastor Father Bob Washabaugh said of the 18-foot-tall decorative corners atop the bell tower.

    Washabaugh said the decision was unanimous to restore the church, and a three-year pledge drive began, starting with the first-year cost of $760,000 needed to repair the bell tower. The tower has been wrapped in scaffolding and blue shielding to contain any falling debris, and a chain link fence blocks off the entire front entrance area for safety. Church side doors and emergency exits remain open to allow church services to continue.

    Loring and Son Masonry Contractors Restoration of New London, which also did repairs on the St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in New London, is doing the work on the Greeneville church.

    Once the scaffolding was up, crews removed the pinnacles at the top four corners of the tower. Some of the pieces crumbled upon removal, Washabaugh said. Loring will create molds to replicate 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 rest of the church facade, repair the rosetta stained glass window in front, upgrade heating and ventilation and improve accessibility.

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

    For future phases, the church already has applied to the Norwich Community Development Corp. for a grant through the Norwich Revitalization Program and will apply for a grant from Preservation Connecticut and will apply for 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 is a cornerstone of the Greeneville neighborhood, a welcoming home for immigrants since 1845, when the parish was founded, the first Saint Mary Church east of the Connecticut River.

    Fundraisers, including the parish’s signature international feasts, are in the works. The centennial celebration is planned for Sunday, Dec. 11, with a special Mass and likely a celebratory dinner to follow.

    Saint Mary recently participated in a Norwich Diocese video program that is highlighting all St. Mary’s churches in the diocese. St. Mary in Greeneville does not have an additional moniker, 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 Street Stuff motorcycle showroom and former longtime home of A.P. Savage Hardware.

    Always a parish dominated by immigrants, first Irish and then many other groups, the parish quickly outgrew its small home. The new stone church was dedicated on Dec. 10, 1922. The church now has masses in Spanish and Haitian Creole, along with a bilingual English-Spanish mass. Cape Verdean immigrants, who speak Portuguese, mostly attend the Spanish mass as the languages are similar, Washabaugh said.

    Haitian and Spanish parishioners added their voices to the video, one saying how he grew up and was married in a Catholic church and is continuing to practice his faith in his new country.

    Alvania Dejada, director of information and evangelism for the parish, said the first priority for the parish is its people. The church is the place where people of many diverse backgrounds gather and share their experiences.

    “We are all a great family,” Dejada said in the video.

    c.bessette@theday.com

    How to donate to St. Mary’s Church restoration:

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

    Donations by mail: Make checks out to St. Mary Church and mail to St. Mary Church, 70 Central Ave., Norwich, CT 06360.

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