By Ron Leir
Holy Cross Church, which dates from the turn of the 19th century, is getting another muchneeded facelift that should help preserve the integrity of the Catholic worship facility. Several years ago, the first priority was fixing a leaky roof and the parish borrowed money from the Archdiocese of Newark to accomplish that, said the Rev. Joseph Girone, church pastor.
With the church interior thereby protected from weather infiltration, in spring 2010, members of the Our Lady of Fatima Society of Holy Cross Church, founded in 1996 and headed by Antonio Silva, undertook the next major step by raising $138,500 to repaint the walls of the sanctuary.
“It was painted by John Tiedemann, Inc., from North Arlington,” recalled Antonio’s spouse Maria Silva, president of the Society’s Ladies Auxiliary. “All this money was raised from parties, buses to Atlantic City and donations throughout two years.”
Portuguese immigrants, the Silvas came to the U.S. more than three decades ago (Antonio was born in Estarreja; Maria in Oliveira de Azemeis), settling in Harrison, like many of their countrymen and women. The couple run a construction/ demolition company in Harrison.
Many of the Society’s members attend Portuguese Masses celebrated Sundays at Holy Cross Church.
Now the Society is focused on the next phase of the church’s restoration.
Maria explained: “Three years ago, we started two fundraisers – one for the ‘windows and gutters’ and another for the ‘pews and flooring’. At a meeting on April 21, we decided to combine both fundraisers in order to paint and restore the windows.”
So far, she said, “we’ve collected $83,381.90. That total includes $26,541.90 from the ‘pews and flooring’ funding as well as the generous donation of $12,000 from the Knights of Columbus in Harrison.”
“With this amount,” she said, “we are able to pay for the [window work on the] east, west and south sides of the church. For the front, Father Joe agreed to pay with the money from the school rent.” (The parish is leasing its old grammar school on Frank E. Rodgers Blvd. to Lady Liberty Academy, a Newark charter school.)
“The estimate for all the windows of the church, if no problems come up, [is] $104,250,” Maria said. Milan Church Restoration of Woodbridge is performing the window rehabilitation job. Elaborating on the process, Girone said Milan workers are replacing old exterior glass covering the stained glass windows with new more protective glass containing tiny ventilation holes and, at the same time, they’re repairing the aging wood frames holding the windows in place.
There are 18 stained glass windows on the church’s east side and 19 on the west side, three large ones in the back, and many on the front, Silva said.
“It’s the kind of job we couldn’t do ourselves without that kind of expert resource,” Girone said. “As far as it being a priority, it’s off our radar system.”
That’s because, in recent years, the pastor said, the parish was occupied with life safety infrastructure issues, such as fixing the roofs of the church, the rectory and the building formerly occupied by the Carmelite order, repairing the school building’s roof and repointing its brick exterior, and installing a fire suppression system in the church basement.
The pastor estimated that around $800,000 has been invested in those improvements.
Girone said the parish has been in the processing of repaying an emergency loan from the Archdiocese to finance much of those repairs. Proceeds from the sale of the Carmelites property – gifted to the parish – were used, along with a portion of the rental of the school building, to help pay back the Archdiocese, he said.
Meanwhile, the windows and gutters project is expected to be completed in a few weeks, according to Antonio Silva.
Sometime after that, Girone said, yet another fundraising drive will be undertaken for the replacement of the sanctuary pews and flooring, which, he said, are believed to date from the late 1880s when the church was built.
To that end, the church will be sponsoring “A Night Under The Stars,” a gala dinner dance on Sept. 21, beginning with a cocktails at 6:30 p.m., followed by a catered dinner at 7:30 p.m., and concluding with a tricky tray at 9:15 p.m. The celebration starts outside Church Square by the St. Anthony’s entrance.
Tickets are $35 for adults; $20 for children ages 7 to 12; and free for kids under age 6. Attendance is limited to 200. Parking is available at Jersey St. and Frank E. Rodgers Blvd.
For tickets, contact Susana Vilela, c/o 16 Church Square, Harrison, N.J. 07029 or e-mail HCSecretary@Comcast.com or call the church at 973-484- 5678. Reservation deadline is Sept. 15.