Ready, Set, Dig – Holy Cross pastor Father Michael Manning greets the crowd at the April 14 groundbreaking at the Rumson parish. Over 200 parishioners and dignitaries were present to witness the beginning of Phase II of the multi-year expansion. Rosemary Daniels photo

Ready, Set, Dig – Holy Cross pastor Father Michael Manning greets the crowd at the April 14 groundbreaking at the Rumson parish. Over 200 parishioners and dignitaries were present to witness the beginning of Phase II of the multi-year expansion. Rosemary Daniels photo

By Christina Leslie and Rosemary Daniels | Correspondents

With prayer and song under sunny skies, members of the Holy Cross Church family witnessed the start of the second phase of a major renovation and expansion project April 14 for their Rumson parish. Father Michael Manning, pastor, led a contingent of some 200 parishioners and visiting dignitaries in celebrating the first fruits of their $5 million “A Time to Build” capital campaign.

Grasping a ceremonial silver shovel and wearing a hard hat, Father Manning turned over the first clumps of earth in what is anticipated to be a 15-month construction process. He was joined by John E. Ekdahl, mayor of Rumson; family members of the two campaign chairs, David Dowden and Dan Rusbarsky; and members of Scozzari Builders, Inc. of Trenton, who will serve as construction manager for the project. James McCrery of McCrery Architects, Washington, will serve as project architect.

Holy Cross Parish has undertaken expansion projects and enrichment of its facilities numerous times since its founding in 1884 by Bishop Michael J. O’Farrell. The capital campaign begun in 2002 far surpassed its original goal, enabling the parish to enlarge the scope of its planned school expansion. Phase I of construction, completed in 2006, saw the addition of a new school library, science lab, media room and a gymatorium to Holy Cross School.

Fundraising for internal and external renovations and upgrades to the church and its grounds continued. Its title taken from the third chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes, Phase II of the “A Time to Build” capital campaign will incorporate the existing church building as part of a much larger edifice on the same Ward Avenue site, increasing its seating capacity from 200 to 648 congregants.

The interior of the church will contain a new altar, lectern and Baptismal font; an upgraded HVAC system; a new sound system and soundproofing; new basement meeting space; and upgraded handicap accessibility. Exterior changes to the grounds will include an entry garden; stone fountain; wooden pergola; a refurbished Crucifixion shrine, new statuary, a Marian garden, and additional handicapped parking. Father Manning and his congregation had hoped to add new stained glass windows, but at a cost of $50,000 each, they would have far exceeded their budget. The Rumson parish opted to install standard windows with a tinted pane, but a visit to Pennsylvania by McCrery proved to be providential for Holy Cross.

During the course of the re-design process, McCrery was invited by the archdiocese of Philadelphia to look over items from St. Francis of Assisi Church in the city’s Germantown section. St. Francis had been recently de-commissioned and closed in June, 2012 due to declining population. Included in the beautiful and sacred building materials were 16 stained glass windows, 194 inches high and 40 inches wide, crafted by renowned designer and mural painter Nicola D’Ascenzo (1871-1951).

McCrery knew the windows would be perfect candidates for the window openings in Holy Cross’ new design and notified the church. Holy Cross engaged Joe Beyer of Philadel­phia’s The Beyer Studio, a specialist in restoration and relocation of sacred stained glass windows, to restore and resize the 90-year-old pieces of art.

Beyer will remove the lower sections of the windows to ensure an adequate fit in the Holy Cross framing and restore three glass windows that remain in the Rumson church. According to Holy Cross pastoral assistant Lori LaPlante.

Walter Mehl, a parishioner and member of the building committee, noted, “ …. inasmuch as St Francis church will no longer exist as a part of the Catholic community of Philadelphia, it will live on as a part of the new Holy Cross Church in Rumson.”

The construction project is scheduled to begin on May 1, 2013, and conclude by August 2014. During construction, Holy Cross will celebrate weekend Masses in the auditorium and daily Masses in their chapel. Funeral and weddings are still being scheduled during construction, with special accommodations being made at surrounding diocesan parishes including Precious Blood, Monmouth Beach.

During the groundbreaking ceremony, Father Manning walked the footprint of the new construction, marked by a line of white paint on the ground, blessing perimeter with a sprinkling of holy water. Even the youngest parish members took part in the event; the children’s choir was led in song by director Don Carolina while six Holy Cross School students served as welcoming ambassadors and directed traffic.

“It’s surely been a long journey,” Father Manning noted. “Terrific new facilities were added to our school several years ago in the first phase of the project and now it’s wonderful to see the church renovation and expansion take place.”

“We’re on our way!” echoed Eugenia Kelly, pastoral assistant.