Parishioners of a New Kensington church damaged by a tornado more than two years ago are expected to return there for worship in November.
The Reverend Larry J. Kulick, bishop of the Diocese of Greensburg, announced Friday that he will be at St. Mary of Czestochowa on Sunday at 1 p.m. to celebrate a reopening mass and welcome parishioners back to their church.
“Today is important because it is the first Sunday of Advent and, for us as Catholics, the beginning of a new liturgical year in our church,” Kulick said. “It will also be a new beginning for the parishioners of Sainte-Marie de Czestochowa.
The church has been closed since an EF-1 tornado, with winds of up to 100 mph, hit it shortly after 1 a.m. on April 8, 2020. It tore off part of the roof and caused damage critics to one of the two bell towers. Heavy rains and winds caused extensive damage inside the church.
“Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when I arrived here the morning after the storm. I couldn’t believe the damage,” Kulick said. “It was heartbreaking to see how this mighty storm caused so much damage to this beautiful church. However, because of Christ’s love and mercy, no one was harmed.
Damage totaled $2.7 million, according to the diocese. Repair work began in December and has not been completed.
“We have been assured by independent engineers in the diocese that the church is safe for the return of parishioners,” Kulick said. “There are a few things that need to be sorted out before we can reopen, and these will be done over the next few weeks. As the church reopens, work will continue on the exterior on the roof and the exterior structure that surrounds it.
Crews have already repaired the church’s badly damaged plaster, repaired carpentry and painted. The light fixtures have been removed and restored.
The scaffolding was removed and the carpeting and other interior restoration work was completed a few weeks ago.
A start date for the roof repair, the final phase of the project, will be announced shortly, the diocese said.
The damaged bell tower, which was removed, will be rebuilt as it was, said Msgr. Raymond E. Riffle, Vicar General of the Diocese of Greensburg.
The insurance covers the cost of the restoration, almost at no cost to the parish, Riffle said.
“The project had many hurdles to overcome, complex hurdles – the covid pandemic, negotiating with insurers and contractors, which had to be precise so that no renovation costs were passed on to the parish,” Riffle said. . “Shortage of labor and supply chain issues have surfaced, causing delays.
“The sacrifices that have been made and the patience shown by the parishioners here, I think, have been worth the wait.”
Parishioner Michael Hakos of Plum said his family history with St. Mary of Czestochowa dates back to 1905. He, his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were married there. He was baptized there.
“Pretty much everything in life starts here,” he said.
He came to church at 6 a.m. after the tornado.
“I was devastated and in tears,” Hakos said.
Hakos said the church has been restored to its pre-tornado condition, possibly better.
This included artist Jeph Gurecka, originally from East Vandergrift, who restored the hand-painted murals on the ceiling, which had been damaged by water. Gurecka also restored a mural of the Lamb of God above the shrine.
“I never thought he would come back to the state he is in now,” Hakos said. “We have made great progress.”
Kulick said he would return to Sainte-Marie de Czestochowa for a new dedication and a mass of blessing once all the work was completed. Diocesan officials expect it to be in the spring.
Kulick thanked the parishioners of Sainte Marie de Czestochowa.
“It’s a beautiful church, and it’s an important parish in our diocese,” Kulick said. “Thank you for your prayers for the safety of the construction crews who scaled the high scaffolding and worked diligently to restore your parish.
“I know it hasn’t been easy not having this church for worship, for funerals, for baptisms and for general activities that are central to parish life. Thank you for the sacrifices you have made and the patience you have shown.