STONINGTON — After nearly eight years in various stages of a multimillion-dollar renovation, St. Michael the Archangel Church reopened to the public Saturday.
A 10 a.m. Mass of Dedication welcomed parishioners back to the church, which was shuttered on April 22, 2012, after a structural evaluation turned up serious deficiencies and the building was deemed unsafe. After a yearslong fundraising effort led by the Very Rev. Dennis Perkins, Saturday’s ceremony, which was conducted by Bishop Michael R. Cote of the Diocese of Norwich, was the first time the public was able to view the inside of the church in its finished state.
After the altar servers and concelebrants marched from the rectory to the front of the church, Guido Petra, owner of Petra Construction Co., thanked all those involved in the restoration — he said it took 39 contractors in all — and handed the keys to Cote, who in turn handed them to Perkins. The cross bearer led the procession and eager parishioners into the church for the dedication Mass.
“Enter the gates of the Lord with thanksgiving, his courts with songs of praise,” said Cote before the procession stepped over the threshold.
The interior of the new structure, its walls a rich burgundy, is dominated by a spectacular marble altar inspired by the one in use at the turn of the 20th century. Renovated statues and Stations of the Cross punctuate the walls, and soaring wooden trusses give the ceiling a period look. A floral border rings the church and the stained glass windows.
Cote was joined at the altar by Perkins; the Most Rev. Robert C. Evans, the auxiliary bishop of Providence; the Most Rev. Paul S. Loverde, a Pawcatuck native who is the bishop emeritus of Arlington, Va.; the Rev. Msgr. Leszek T. Janik; the Very Rev. Ted F. Tumicki; the Very Rev. Brian J. Converse; and the Rev. Brian J. Romanowski.
“The church is a mixture of old and new. The building, in a way, pays homage to its past by reincorporating treasures from the past, such as the stained glass windows, the Stations of the Cross and statuary. It also recovers elements lost over the years, such as the stained glass windows on the front of the church. … This church belongs to the people of the entire parish,” Cote said, adding, “God’s house, God’s temple — that is, you and I — is still being built into a community that hopefully will manifest ever more clearly as the years unfold.”
Cote reflected on what the dedication meant to him.
“Personally, I find dedicating a new altar and today’s dedication of this church, awesome moments. I say this because the church is truly holy ground. … Whenever you enter any church, let the altar there always remind you of the deep and abiding love that the Lord has for you.”
Cote performed blessings of the walls and altar, the sealing of the relics of St. Sebastian and St. Martial in the altar, and the incensing of the altar and the church.
After these blessings, he lit a candle, and then all the candles on the resplendent altar were lit. It was only after this that the lights were turned on for the first time in the newly consecrated space, showing off the full resplendence of the church to its congregants.
State Rep. Kate Rotella, D-Stonington, and state Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, were on hand to present a proclamation from the state legislature marking the occasion. First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough also spoke to the parishioners.
At the end of the Mass, Perkins thanked parishioners and everyone involved in the restoration by relating it to God’s miracles.
“There’s been a recurring reflection for me over these years, because as we closed eight years ago, we had really nothing in terms of assets and things to correct the situation. The miracle points out to us that we should never underestimate the power of God to take that which we deem to be insufficient and to turn it into something that is plentiful and real.”
He also revealed that to finish paying off the work, an anonymous donor has pledged a $250,000 matching grant if the parish can raise $250,000 by the end of February. As of Friday, he said, $185,000 had been raised, which drew hearty applause.
Perkins ended by thanking the parishioners of St. Mary Church in Stonington Borough for taking in the St. Michael’s congregants over the past eight years.
“You know what it is to be without a home. You also know what it is to be welcomed into another’s home. Eight years ago when St. Michael’s closed, you were warmly welcomed by Monsignor LaRocque and the people of St. Mary’s,” Perkins said. “May you always remember their generosity and kindness in such a way that all who pass through these doors seeking shelter and a home in the presence of God find a warm and generous home here.”
The closing hymn, "O God Beyond All Praising," was a fitting endnote; it was the final hymn sung at the 11 a.m. Mass on the day the church closed in 2012.