By Lois Rogers | Correspondent
St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, may currently seat more than 1,000, but it was the parish center that helped build a community of faith that was celebrated Sept. 17.
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“There was a recognition of the need to care for a building that has served the parish so well as a place for worship, learning and to develop community,” Msgr. Sam A. Sirianni, rector, said as the newly renovated parish hall and chapel that once served as the parish worship site was rededicated. “After all those years, it needed a little TLC.”
The ceremony, attended by some 800 parishioners and friends, followed Mass in the Co-Cathedral, which was celebrated by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., on the feast of St. Robert Bellarmine, a Doctor of the Church and great theologian, for whom the Co-Cathedral is named.
Msgr. Sirianni concelebrated along with Father Daniel F. Gowen, parochial vicar, and Father Edward H. Jawidzik, parochial vicar in St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish, Hamilton, who served for 16 years as parochial vicar in the parish.
In his homily, the Bishop preached on the day’s Readings, which reflected the theme of forgiveness.
In the Book of Sirach, often called “the Wisdom of Joshua Ben Sira,” a collection of Jewish ethical teachings written around 200 years BC, the Bishop noted how the author encourages the notion of forgiveness in the face of anger and hate in the strongest terms.
“If, Sirach says, ‘One does not have mercy toward another like himself, can he expect pardon for his own sins? Makes sense, doesn’t it? Seems reasonable,'" the Bishop said.
The Gospel of Matthew, the Bishop continued, makes a similar point, only by Jesus presenting the parable of someone who begs and receives forgiveness for himself first but, then, turns around and refuses it to another.
“Now that doesn’t make sense, does it? Seems unreasonable, almost embarrassingly so,” the Bishop said.
“The funny thing about forgiveness is this: when forgiveness makes sense and seems reasonable or, on the other hand, when forgiveness doesn’t make sense and seems unreasonable, forgiveness is God’s way with us and it’s what he asks to be our way with one another,” said Bishop O’Connell. “I feel pretty sure that as the readings were read and as you hear these words of mine, some of us were squirming in our seats or even at this pulpit. Forgiveness can be easy. It can also be very difficult, very hard.”
Labor of Love, Dedication
After Mass, the blessing and dedication in the 6,400-square-foot hall brought to a conclusion the three-month renovation that saw the installation of new floor tiles and walls and upgrades to the kitchen and electrical and audio-visual systems.
Addressing the large crowd that followed him from the church to the hall, Bishop O’Connell described the project as a labor of love and dedication that underscored the importance of the hall to parish and diocesan life.
The effort had involved, he said, the “work and prayers” of many involved in upgrading the structure which was dedicated to the memory of and now named for Msgr. Thomas Dentici, founding pastor of the parish. The Bishop noted that Msgr. Dentici presided over the facility’s construction 42-years earlier when it was built to serve as a family center for worship, education and socialization.
“May all who enter here meet Christ,” the Bishop prayed, as he blessed the meeting room and its surrounds, including the chapel that served as the worship site until the completion of the parish’s new church. The church, now diocesan Co-Cathedral, was built in 2002 under the stewardship of Father Thomas J. O’Connor, fourth pastor of the parish.
Meeting a Need
After the ceremony, Msgr. Sirianni reflected on the scope of the project.
The renovation was phase two of a three-phase project that began with the addition of a new roof and heating and cooling system, the merger of three former classrooms into Trinity Hall – a meeting room for groups of 40 to 50 – a new pantry for the education wing and new bathrooms, he explained.
Msgr. Sirianni and parishioner Steve Strump, who chairs the Co-Cathedral’s building committee, served as project managers.
“Dentici Hall is a very important part of the parish, and from that perspective, the work was a long time in coming,” Strump said.
Improvements have been made to communications capabilities, such as drop screens for projecting visuals. A major transformation also fitted the area out for use by professional caterers, Strump said, noting that the old kitchen was gutted and refurbished to meet the state’s food service regulations and is now equipped as a work area and warming center.
The color scheme is like a “breath of fresh air,” said Michael Testa, a parishioner for 12 years. Testa, who served as the architect for the project, described the overall effect as one that lends itself to making people comfortable.
Parishioners enjoying their first take of the newly refurbished hall seemed to agree. Among them was Kathy Lo Bue, a member for 29 years, who has experience organizing and hosting programs in the hall.
“The renovation of the Co-Cathedral parish hall couldn’t have come soon enough,” said Lo Bue, a parish trustee who wears many hats including that of extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.
Parishioner Alice Graebe attended the Mass and dedication with friends including Anne Di Bisceglie, a member of neighboring St. Rose of Lima Parish, Freehold, which is working in collaboration with the Co-Cathedral, St. Joseph, Millstone, and St. Thomas More, Manalapan, to meet the goals set by the Faith in Our Future initiative.
Graebe called the renovation a compliment to the atmosphere she has enjoyed about activities in the hall for years. “It’s a very warm place,” she said.
Di Bisceglie said she was especially touched by the four large angel statues donated to the Co-Cathedral that have been situated on a small rise overlooking the hall’s expanse of new windows.
“I love the addition of the four angels,” she said. “When we come to this room, it’s like they are here, giving us a blessing.”