Bishop dedicates new altar at St. Jerome

Bishop Barry C. Knestout during Mass at St. Jerome, Newport News, June 28, 2024. During the Mass, the bishop blessed the baptismal font and dedicated the new altar. (Photo/Jay Paul)

An effort to fix a leaky roof bloomed into a $1 million renovation at St. Jerome, Newport News. At a special Mass on Friday, June 28, Bishop Barry C. Knestout dedicated the new altar and blessed the baptismal font.

The baptismal font was blessed at the beginning of Mass, and the bishop then sprinkled the people with holy water from the new font.

After leading the congregation in the Prayer of Dedication and Anointing, Bishop Knestout poured sacred chrism on the middle of the altar and on each of its four corners.

After the altar was incensed and the chrism wiped away, Bishop Knestout lit the candles with the prayer, “Light of Christ, shine on this altar, and be reflected by those who share at this table.”

“May this altar be a strong and beautiful reminder of the reconciliation that we receive from God,” the bishop said in his homily. “May it also be where we continually offer prayer, praise, devotion and charity, revealing to us and strengthening in us the goodness, truth, and beauty of God.”

Bishop Barry C. Knestout pours sacred chrism on the altar at St. Jerome, Newport News, dedicating it during Mass on June 28, 2024. (Photo/Andrew Buckles)

Exceeding initial goals

Updates included a renovated women’s restroom, as well as a new bathroom, sound system, paint and tile job for the worship space, ambo, and reredos (the decorative backdrop of the altar). Finally, the parish added a new altar and baptismal font.

The ambo, reredos, altar and baptismal font were handmade in the Philippines. It took 64 days to transport them by sea.

“We were literally praying for their safe passage,” said Father George Prado, pastor of St. Jerome.

All pieces arrived safely to create what parishioners call a beautiful and gorgeous church.

“When we have a liturgy that is fit to the Catholic tradition and an altar or space worthy for worship, it affects the way we praise God, the way we celebrate the Mass,” added Father Prado. The external symbols on the new structures also “enhance worship among us,” he said.

Deacon Andrew Clark, who was a resident seminarian at the parish during part of the planning stage of the renovation, said, “It points beyond itself towards the spiritual.” He explained that the design “pulls one’s attention towards the altar, towards the celebration of the liturgy.”

In his homily, Bishop Knestout said that God gives us revelation, his Son, the sacraments, and sacred spaces, which provide a place to worship, teach and to practice charity. They provide visual reminders of what we learn and know about God’s revelation.

“Hopefully, [churches] help us lift our hearts and minds to God in prayer and praise because of their beauty,” said Bishop Knestout. “This beauty introduces us to God’s goodness and leads us toward the truth of his revelation and his love in Christ.”

The parish endured a leaky roof for more than ten years that eventually ravaged the worship space and commons. The steel roof rusted all the way through in sections of the church, causing corroded holes the size of baseballs, explained office manager Andrew Buckles.

The situation had gotten to the point that gallons of water poured through the roof when it rained hard. Puddles formed in the commons. Big blotchy stains spotted the ceiling. Drywall peeled. The acoustic tiles in the commons disintegrated.

Fundraising, which included a capital campaign, began during the pandemic, which presented its own challenges. There was a push for online giving, and when churches opened to the public, only about half of the 600-family parish worshipped in person.

Due to mandated COVID restrictions, the collection basket, pledge cards and informational handouts couldn’t be passed out during Mass. Instead, parishioners were encouraged to donate on their phones through a QR code, Buckles said.

The initial goal was to raise $300,000, with a challenge goal of $500,000. By the end of 2020, the parish had raised $640,695, and additional renovations were planned.

The response to the capital campaign theme of “Abundant Grace and Unwavering Faith” reflected that motto, Father Prado said.

”It is very moving to see how the parishioners have responded to the call in both financial and time investments,” Father Prado said. “The capital campaign was not just about raising money. It’s really about a testimony of the parish way of living their faith as a community, as a parish family, just how overwhelming our parishioners’ love for this parish and their support to the community [is].”

As of June 2024, the parish has raised $913,766 for the project.

Bishop Barry C. Knestout blesses the new baptismal font during Mass on June 28, 2024. (Photo/Jay Paul)

‘Worth the wait’

Josef Gonzalez, engineer for the Philippine Vitreartus Glass Art Company, Inc., said he designed the church to be a balance between contemporary and traditional design.

“I hope it will bring people closer to God,” he said. “We hope to give people a glimpse of heaven here on earth.”

At the center of the reredos is a tabernacle from the vacated Little Sisters of the Poor chapel in Richmond. Above the original parish crucifix, now enshrined in the reredos, is the image of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.

Below the tabernacle is an image of the Lamb of God. The four friezes located on the left and right of the crucifix depict four scenes: the Nativity, the Wedding at Cana, the Resurrection, and Pentecost. The ambo, where the Word of God is proclaimed, is adorned with symbols of the four evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

The altar has an image of the pelican, a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice for humanity because it was once believed that pelicans fed their young with their own flesh and blood. The image is flanked by the alpha and omega. The baptismal font is adorned with shells.

The monies raised for the renovation, the first major renovation since the worship space was built in 1987, covered the expenses in full.

“Thanks be to God,” Father Prado said. The Catholic Community Foundation in the diocese assisted the parish with the capital campaign.

The roof was repaired from 2021-2022. The rest of the renovation began last fall and was completed in May. Father Prado hopes that, in the future, additional funding will be raised to create a new reconciliation room and renovate the chapel, commons and men’s bathroom.

Randall Crum, who is on the parish council, said the church is now “so much brighter” and might “bring people back into God’s space.”

Parish council member Liz Ware said that she is thrilled with the renovation, and that it will enhance worship “100 percent.”

Parishioner Diana Curtis said the new structures have a “beautiful representation of the symbolism” of the images on them. Parishioner Kathleen Mansfield, who said the renovation reminds her of pre-Vatican II sanctuaries, described the renovation as astounding and said it “sets the tone, as it shows the great reverence that we participate in the Mass.”

Parishioner Lien Crum also complimented the church. “I’m just in awe,” she said. “I’m so glad. It was worth the wait.”


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