St. John the Baptist church in Manayunk is under construction, both physically and spiritually, according to Monsignor Kevin Lawrence.
A capital campaign to fix up the exterior of the 121-year-old church building launched in October and has already surpassed its $1 million fundraising goal. Scaffolding now surrounds the church tower while the cross sitting atop the structure has been taken down for repairs after the upper section was knocked off a few years ago by either wind or lightning.
“The work that we’re doing on the church building itself is a metaphor for what we’re trying to achieve pastorally in the community,” said Lawrence, pastor of St. John’s for almost two years.
Lawrence says that before the cross was sent off for repairs, it was stored in the parish hall. He had been apologizing to visitors about the inconvenience when one woman told him she actually found the cross to be a “hopeful sign.”
So the cross was moved to the back of the church. Lawrence also decided to install a time capsule filled with prayers and petitions inside the cross once it is raised back to the top of the 208-foot-tall tower.
“The prayers will be for the restoration, healing and growth of our parish, as well as the family and loved ones of our parishioners,” Lawrence said.
“It’s the cross closest to God, I like to say.”
Rich Van Fossen, capital campaign co-chairman, says he was not surprised that the committee surpassed their financial goal in such rapid fashion.
“It is such a strong, close-knit community in Roxborough and Manayunk,” said the Roxborough native. “That church means so much to so many people. You’d have to go a long way to find a church in this region that rivals its architectural beauty.”
Fellow co-chairman Christopher McGill, President of East River Bank, says the fundraising was a total community effort.
“We had everything from beef and beers to formal cocktail receptions,” McGill said. “People gave from ten bucks to in excess of thousands of dollars. Everyone was involved and committed.”
McGill’s roots run deep in the Manayunk neighborhood. His grandfather Francis, who formed Roxborough Manayunk Bank out of several local churches during the Great Depression, is buried in the cemetery behind St. John the Baptist.
McGill says that despite the unrest in the Archdiocese with the consolidation of St. Josaphat’s, St. Mary’s and St. Lucy’s in recent years, it’s an exciting time for the area.
“There are a lot of young families in Manayunk where years ago they were maybe renters or going through college and now they’re staying to raise their children,” McGill said.
“It’s kind of re-gentrified itself over time.”
Fossen says that the second step in the fundraising process is to build some support in the form of reserves or endowments so the parish can generate additional revenues to help with any deferred maintenance.
“I would actually like us to get to $1.5 million by June,” Fossen added.
As for the repairs to the tower, the cross will be raised and construction finished by mid-February, when a pair of peregrine falcons that have been nesting in the tower for several years are expected to return.