CHARLESTOWN — At one time going to Mass at St. James Chapel was a bit of a rustic experience.
Over the years a comfortable, modern, air conditioned chapel was built on the site, complete with a cupola that allows natural light to flood a worship space that can accommodate 250 faithful seated in individual, padded blue royal blue seats.
With the parish of St. Mary Church and St. James Chapel enjoying steady growth through the years the need for a complimentary structure on the chapel grounds to serve the faith community’s religious education and social needs has become more apparent.
Around the start of spring the parish broke ground on a single level structure that will provide much-needed classroom space for CCD programs, as well as community rooms for social events and even a warming kitchen to provide basic food service for parish functions.
The 4,800 square foot addition to the property will be connected to the chapel by a breezeway, and is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
Father Paul Desmarais, pastor of St. Mary Church and St. James Chapel, said the project is inspired by the words of Pope Francis, in which the pontiff expressed that the church needs to have a heart.
“The building that we erect, that building that we place here today is the heart of Christ, it’s the heart of our Mother and we pray and ask for their intercession,” he said.
“Our brick and mortar, our beams, our walls, our kitchens, all that we do is the reflection of the heart of our Lord. It is a reflection of all who walk here, who come through these doors that they find hospitality, warmth, mercy, forgiveness and the hope that is the heart of this building.”
Parishioner Lita Mainelli marveled at the way her parish has grown through the decades.
“When we came to church here in the 70s we went to Mass over there in a barn,” Lita Mainelli said, pointing toward an open part of the bucolic grounds that will soon be filled with the long-awaited parish center.
She said she is very much looking forward to attending events in the new space, which will follow the same style as the chapel with a cupola and sloping roof.
Parishioner Beverly Lavallee, who attends daily Mass at the chapel during the week, said she strongly supported the effort to build the new center.
“I think it’s fantastic, it’s needed,” she said, looking at the architect’s rendering of the completed project.
Parish Business Manager Doug Noble said the project, which is being called “A Place of Our Own,” has been five years in the making.
He said that although there were many obstacles to overcome leading to the groundbreaking on the new parish center the parishioners all came together to move the project forward.
“The parish is growing,” Noble said. “We’ve had to rent classrooms for our CCD program from the Chariho school system.”
Noble said he looked forward to being able to hang crucifixes in the religious education classrooms and for the center’s ability to provide space for a variety of activities in the vibrant parish.
In addition to the four religious education classrooms, the center will also offer a conference room and space for various groups, including the parish’s Parents Education Program, music ministry, St. Vincent de Paul and Right to Life ministries.
It will also provide space for social activities and receptions.
“We’ll be able to hold our Christmas party here,” Noble said.
He said the project will cost about $900,000 to complete, with most of those funds raised through a capital campaign and the sale of nearby parish-owned property.
“One of the most important things behind this is that we had a successful capital campaign,” said Leo Mainelli, a member of the Building Committee.
“When we all realized that we were going to make our goal it was unbelievable how ecstatic we were because at that point we knew the building was going to go ahead.”
“We had the money, which was a monumental accomplishment,” he said, paying tribute to the hard work of his fellow parishioners in making the project possible.
Project architect Barry Goewey recalled the years it has taken for the project to evolve from a dream discussed at the kitchen table of parishioner George Fontaine.
“This is one of the special times for me, for my faith, that I could put my expertise together and help bring this all about,” Goewey said.
“As we go forward I just relish the thought of the construction process, even though we’re going to have some bumps along the way, in the end it will be a real pleasure to see the parish center.”
Mike Cocci, the builder of the project, has been a parishioner for 20 years, with his children making their sacraments in the parish.
“It’s important to me to be part of this project,” he said. “I’m at the back side of life now and my career it’s important for me to participate in something like this, not only for myself, but for children to come in the future here to this project.”
“Catholic education is important for us today,” he added, noting how the new space can enhance educational offerings. “My kids participated in it and I’d like to see future generations participate in it as well.”