Bishop O'Connell consecrates the top of the altar with the Sacred Chrism.
Bishop O'Connell consecrates the top of the altar with the Sacred Chrism.
Another milestone was celebrated in the 78-year history of St. Mary of the Lakes Parish in Medford, when on Nov. 14, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., joined the community to mark the completion of a multi-faceted church renovation project.

Father Daniel F. Swift, pastor, was joined by hundreds of parishioners in witnessing the Bishop’s blessing of new church furnishings and consecration of a newly-installed marble altar.

PHOTO GALLERY: Consecration of new altar in St. Mary of the Lakes Church

"The blessing and consecration of an altar is a continuation of what has happened in the history of the Church over these more than 2,000 years,” Bishop O’Connell said. “Isn't that what the Church is, the continuation of the Gospel, of the early Church, of the great saints who have lived and worked in the Church and spurred us on right up to the present moment?"  

The solemn, ancient ritual of consecrating an altar included the placement of a first-class relic of St. John Neumann inside the altar. After the choir sang the Litany of the Saints, the Bishop poured Sacred Chrism on the altar's surface and spread the oil with his hand. The Bishop incensed the altar after which four parishioners dressed the table with altar linens and then the deacon lit the candles.

Discussions to renovate the sanctuary began when the parish observed its 75th anniversary in 2018 but plans were postponed until other work could be completed around the parish campus. Last year, a family, who wished to remain anonymous, offered to make a generous donation so the renovation of the sanctuary could become a reality. That family, along with a second donor family, helped to underwrite the entire $775K project.

Other upgrades included a new pulpit and tabernacle altars, woodwork and porcelain for the sanctuary and three center aisles. The liturgical designer, Drazen Cackovic of DCAK-MSA Architecture & Engineering, PC., Nyack, N.Y., hails from Croatia and the marble for the altar was shipped from Croatia, Father Swift said. He added that the altar was built by two brothers.

“There was a great deal of excitement among the parishioners when the work began in July,” Father Swift said. “Each week, the parishioners were eager to see the progress that had been made.

“Most especially, they were very glad the Blessed Sacrament would be in the center of the sanctuary, directly behind the altar,” Father Swift said. He added that to have the relic of St. John Neumann placed inside the altar was most fitting since he was the fourth bishop of Philadelphia and many parishioners hail from Philadelphia. They were also honored because Neumann founded the first Catholic diocesan school system in the U.S. “and we are very proud of the catholic education we provide at St. Mary of the Lakes School.”

“The new sanctuary will give greater honor and glory to God who has blessed St. Mary of the Lakes in so many ways these past 78 years,” he said.

Parishioner Carol Wagner commented on the tremendous honor it was to help dress the altar during the consecration rite, especially after having had an active role in setting up makeshift altars for daily Mass and handling other liturgical duties during the renovations.

Ed Bohi, chairman of the parish pastoral council, said the renovations brought the parish community together in a “unique” way with everyone having to cooperate and adjust to temporary configurations while the work was being completed. The adjustments, he said, impacted how other facilities were used, such as the parish’s Emmaus Center and the school and its chapel which are about three miles away from the church campus, he said.

Bohi, who is a lifelong parishioner, found the transformation made to the sanctuary and surrounding worship space with its new appointments and furnishings to be especially meaningful. He referred to how the only cross with the figure of Christ crucified upon it had  been the processional cross and that it was not clearly visible to those sitting or standing at a distance or in the transepts. Now there is a new Crucifix that is mounted above the altar. Before, the tabernacle, was not prominent or worthily decorated. Now it is located behind the main altar in the center of the reredos (the wall behind the altar). The tabernacle can now be seen from main altar and also from the parking lot entrance to the church. Another refurbishment is that the wood for the reredos now matches the wood of the pews, and that the arches above the Crucifix, Blessed Mother statue and St. Joseph statue of the reredos now match the arches in the ceiling of the church.

“Any photos taken of the renovations do not do justice to seeing it up close and in person,” he said.

Msgr. James Dubell was happy to witness the consecration in the parish where he had served as pastor from 2003 until his retirement in 2015.

“The renovations add to the holiness of the whole church,” he said, “and remember, this is where the most important prayer of all is celebrated – the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”

“Today is a great tribute to the people of St. Mary of the Lakes Parish,” he said, “and an expression of their faith and their devotion to the Eucharist.”