While other churches are closing down and amalgamating, Holy Cross Parish in Henderson has embarked on a $4.1 million project to rebuild and expand its church to accommodate more parishioners.
The massive project started this year with the original Milan Mrkusich mosaic art depicting the Stations of the Cross being carefully extracted from the walls. The parish asked Studio of John the Baptist artist Michael Pervan to supervise the removal of the mosaics and to restore them.
Rebuilding committee chairman Mike McKeown told NZ Catholic the idea for rebuilding the church was discussed around 2004-2005.
“The need has been apparent for a number of years. With not enough seating, parishioners were overflowing in most of our five weekly Masses,” he said.
When finished, the church will be able to seat 700 parishioners, up from the current 500. It will also have a parish centre and a children’library/meeting area.
Mr McKeown said the parish raised funds mostly by themselves. They elected a rebuilding committee and had a sub-committee for fundraising which entailed “concerts, door-knocking, fairs, concerts, cake stalls,
you name it”, he said.
He added that the parish is multicultural and each community helped in their own ways.
Long-term parishioner and former parish pastoral council chair Peter Turnwald said the current church was built shortly before Vatican II.
“It’s layout was immediately outmoded by the concepts which influenced church design following the council,” explained Mr Turnwald, who is a member of the rebuilding committee.
“After a number of years, decisions were made to reposition the altar and crucifix to the side of the building, rearrange the seating, and cut out a new entrance in the wall opposite the new altar.”
Mr Turnwald said this format, which was a very traditional square lay-out (“a main aisle leading to the railed off altar”), was converted to a semi-circle.
“The changed format . . . which has served the parish well for decades, was still very much a compromise — illustrated most often when pall-bearers struggled to carry a coffin from the church in the confined aisle space,” he said.
Mr Turnwald said the new design addresses the parish’s needs.
“The new layout reinstates the original artworks to their former positions, but importantly enables the congregation to encircle the altar. A central aisle is reinstated, and the significant increase in seating addresses the overflow of congregation at many celebrations,” he said.
He added that the new “parish centre incorporates additional meeting areas, and brings the busy administration functions in the parish to a more convenient location”.
At present, two of the walls of the church had been demolished. “We are using the parish hall — balancing its use for Masses with the school’s requirements. It seems to be working well,” he said.
Mr McKeown lamented the fact that two of the mosaic stations “were inadvertently destroyed”.
“We cannot even trace photos of the missing Station 12 and 13 or the original sketches by Milan (Mrkusich),” he said. “When questioned, he (Mr Mrkusich) said he lent them (sketches) to some Irish priest who subsequently departed for Ireland and was never heard of again.”
Mr Mrkusich was a well-respected New Zealand artist who was a pioneer of abstract painting in this country. He passed away last year.
Mr McKeown asked the public to send in any photos they may have of the missing two stations. “[It] would be greatly appreciated,” he said.
The Auckland Council, in issuing the resource consent, made it a condition that the mosaic stations be retained and restored.
Mr McKeown said Mr Pervan, a well-respected sacred art artist, came up with an ingenious method of removing the mosaics.
“[It was] quite a task and one which has caused a lot of angst amongst us as, prior to Michael arriving, we could find no one to even look at them, let alone come up with a scheme to remove them,” Mr McKeown said.
“Oh, and [it was] also [quite a task] to get approval from a conservationist authority whom the council have insisted oversee the work on the mosaics and other . . . artworks.”
Mr Turnwald said the new design “preserves the presence of the structure over-looking Henderson as it has done for more than 60 years”.
“It will sit beautifully on the site where the community has worshipped for over 100 years, and it is fitting that the architect who designed it, Susan Lee, is a member of the congregation the building will serve,” he said.