Parishioners excited about St. James Church's reconstruction, expansion
The extensive building reconstruction that has transformed and expanded St. James Catholic Church in Arlington Heights will be ready in time for the 10,000-member parish to fill pews for Easter Sunday Masses, church officials say.
Bulldozers and up to 200 craftsmen have been carving out a new spiritual home for the church at north Arlington Heights Road and Frederick Street.
The $10.5 million project, funded mostly with donations, will satisfy several major needs: making the church handicap accessible, including a main floor washroom and elevator; allowing seating to increase from 500 to more than 800; and providing a large inside "gathering" room to enhance friendships before and after the 11 weekly Masses.
The parking lot will have about 50 more spaces, for a total of 185, including six for handicap parking.
"We are blessed by our parishioners' stewardship that has made our church accessible for everyone," said the Rev. Matt Foley, St. James' pastor.
"We are grateful for our neighbors and their perseverance through the construction. We look forward to celebrating Mass in church on Easter to give praise and thanksgiving to God who has made the newly renovated church a reality."
Foley said parishioners will be pleased with not having to attend Mass in the parish's school gymnasium across the street, as they have for the past 10 months.
Now-retired pastor, the Rev. Bill Zavaski, said people had been worshipping at St. James since the first Mass in February 1952, and the building was in need of a complete makeover. Zavaski said parishioners have provided a great deal of faith, dedication and love to the church. The church renovation and expansion project will give parishioners "a stronger relationship with God," he added.
During the project, much care has been taken to safely remove and store the liturgical furnishings, such as the monstrance (a receptacle in which the consecrated Host, or wheat wafer, is exposed for adoration) and the valuable stain glass windows.
Originally, the windows were designed by William Randag, a Franciscan friar and once renowned artist in Europe who came to Arlington Heights for six months to oversee their installation.
As part of the expansion, St. James commissioned Daprato Rigali Studios in Chicago to create two new stained glass windows in the likeness of the original windows, said facilities and construction manager Debra R. Bolash.
The opening of the expanded church also will usher in new parking restrictions on Arlington Heights Road effective April 22. A new village ordinance will prohibit parking on Arlington Heights Road. The expanded parking lot provided by the project will offset the loss of street parking on Sunday mornings, Bolash said.
The renovation and expansion project's first phase, completed in 2008, built a new school that allowed the parish to move all students under one roof. Over the years, several neighboring houses have been purchased to make way for the planned church expansion and a retention pond. The 91-year-old St. James School building was demolished last June.
Along the way, the church building project has presented some challenges for construction crews.
"And you never know what's behind the walls or in the foundation or under the soil, like the swampy soil in the former parking lot. That had to be replaced with stone. That was a lot of money," said Chris Jarosz, a volunteer member of the church construction committee.
"Then, there was the old drain tile system that had collapsed over the years. That had to be replaced. Then, of course, there was the challenge of combating bad weather."
Another church construction committee volunteer, Brian Milligan, said he had a "God moment" during his construction walk-throughs.
"Yes, I came to believe in the importance of a church," he said.
Pat Farrell, director of spiritual direction at St. James School, is among those who have voiced excitement about their "new" church.
"This is a wonderful reality and gift for our culture that you don't find in this secular culture. It's for people of all ages, and it will reach young people and at different spiritual levels. One's spiritual well-being will come through better in this extra space. The whole point (of this reconstruction) is to enhance faith."
Norma Aquila, the 78-year-old church sacristan who has meticulously prepared the St. James altar for Mass since 1993, said she's very thankful the church is being renovated.
Aided by three church members, she sees that the several wash cloths and towels used during the Masses are washed and ironed and that the vessels used for the communion wine are sacramentally cleaned after each Mass.
She admits being somewhat nervous about finding "where to put things" in the expanded sanctuary she has yet to tour.
"I want Father Matt to show me around," she said. "I'm so excited. So many changes."