The most extensive church restoration in the 160-year history of Immaculate Conception Parish in Washington, PA, according to a major benefactor, is designed to “take a beautiful church and make it even more beautiful.”
Led by their pastor, Father William Feeney, dedicated lay leaders have shepherded the project from wish list to blueprint to reality as part of Our Campaign for The Church Alive! Bishop David Zubik dedicated the new altar on Palm Sunday.
“Our people love their church, they love their parish, and they love their bishop,” Father Feeney said. “We give honor and glory to God by coming here, and we want to be inspired to go out and bring others to Christ. When we have that attitude, we’re all evangelizers.”
The church, built 85 years ago, has been restored top-to-bottom, inside and out. The slate roof was repaired, limestone walls pointed, and sidewalk improvements are underway. New heating and air conditioning was installed, the interior walls and ceiling were painted, stained glass windows restored, energy-efficient lighting hung inside the chandeliers and wall sconces, the stone Stations of the Cross were reglazed to reveal beautiful detail, padded pews seating 725 people were put in, and marble aisles have replaced the crumbling slate floors.
The sanctuary floor was raised and covered in marble, the center altar rail removed, and a new marble altar and pulpit installed. The high altar was cleaned, the tabernacle doors refurbished, statues repainted, and a handicapped access ramp was built. The curtain behind the crucifix was removed to reveal a beautiful wall design depicting the Holy Spirit’s gifts to us.
The entire interior restoration is a gift from an anonymous donor, which freed substantial funding for other parish priorities, including expanding adult faith formation, religious education and youth ministry programs.
Parish leaders John Sisson, Ray Popeck and Dr. Tom Drewitz are looking forward to seeing everyone’s reactions to the church improvements.
“Our parish goal was ambitious, but everyone pitched in and people responded generously,” said Sisson, who co-chaired Immaculate Conception’s campaign with Bill Cline. “It’s a beautiful restoration, a brighter, more inviting space. Very uplifting.”
“What’s been done is just remarkable,” said Drewitz, who has been taking photographs to chronicle the restoration. “It may bring people back here, if only out of curiosity, and they’ll see how much effort has gone into renovating and elevating our worship space.”
“People are always welcome to join us, we always have an open hand out to our neighbors,” Ray Popeck said. “This new place to gather and worship will help bring us together.”
That neighborly approach is reflected by parishioners who quietly reach out to the poor and needy through the St. Vincent DePaul Society, Ladies of Charity, Knights of Columbus and other parish groups.
The founding of Immaculate Conception Parish can be traced back to the late 1700s when priests from Brownsville, PA, came by horseback to tend to the needs of the faithful of Washington, West Alexander and Claysville. The first church was built in Washington at Lincoln and East Wheeling streets. A parochial school was constructed at North Franklin and West Chestnut in 1901, and the current Gothic-style church was dedicated in 1930.
“Our church building is a symbol, not just of our parish and diocese but the community,” Father Feeney said.
Today, Immaculate Conception Parish, which includes the Sacred Heart worship site in Claysville, is a vibrant faith community that looks to the future with hope, in much the same way as those early parishioners did when Mass was celebrated for the first time in the original church in 1855.
Campaign funds also are helping to pay for a youth minister, adult faith formation and a new young adult group, as well as a new hot water tank in the elementary school, according to Father Feeney. Other work lies ahead as more gifts are received.
“I am very heartened by the response,” Drewitz said. “The people responded so generously and sacrificially, and they wouldn’t have done that if there wasn’t such a strong belief in the faith, and the future of the faith. What we did here is for the next 100 years.”