After three years of planning and $3.5 million, St. Agatha Church is beginning a new chapter. “Just beautiful.” “A wonderful transformation.” These and other glowing remarks were shared among the 200+ guests who attended a recent open house celebrating the completed renovation of the lower church of St. Agatha Catholic Parish, located on Adams Street.
The Rev. Peter J. Casey and the Rev. Robert “Bob” Poitras joined representatives of the Parish Pastoral Council in welcoming and thanking members of the more than 800 families who have pledged funds to the $3.5 million renovation. Two special receptions were held on Nov. 13 to give contributors a first glimpse of the 11,000 square feet, completely refurbished, multi-use space, which will immediately be put to use for the 7 and 9 a.m. weekday Masses beginning the week of Nov. 17.
The old lower space was a large, dimly lit, full church, about the size of the upper church, but it was used only twice a year during Christmas and Easter. Comparatively, the new space is light, welcoming, fully wheelchair accessible, and provides several gathering rooms for a variety of parish uses.
A beaming Fr. Casey said, “The whole space is peaceful, bright, and has a spirit of liveliness.
Among the new rooms in the lower church are:
• A new 145-seat chapel with refurbished stained glass windows and statues
• A 200+ person capacity “gathering space” with tables, ample seating and an adjacent full kitchen
• A parish resource room that will eventually contain a library of books, periodicals, videos, etc. and will also double as a meeting space for 12-15 people
• A meeting room for up to 45 people that will also serve as choir rehearsal space
• A private reconciliation room
• Modern, accessible restrooms for men and women
“What many parishioners may not realize is that the biggest expenses of the renovation went toward extensive ‘unseen’ improvements,” said Jack Riley, parish director of operations and a parishioner for 25 years. “The project upgraded many systems for the whole church: all of the heating, much of the electrical, and a new $900,000 fire protection system. The whole building is now fully sprinklered and insulated. In addition to being a beautiful space for generations to come, it’s also a space that’s energy efficient and up to current standards in terms of the HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems.
The idea of addressing the previously underutilized space was raised by Fr. Casey back in 1998 after he was first appointed to St. Agatha. Serious planning for the renovation of the lower church began in 2005. Demolition and construction, performed by Auburn Construction of Whitman, were completed in only 10 months, led by project manager David Kelleher.
Initially, some parishioners were concerned about the renovation, including Michael P. O’Toole, a parishioner since 1958, a member of the Parish Pastoral Council, and an altar server at the 7 a.m. weekday Masses. “I thought, Will there be enough room [in the chapel for everyone who attends the weekday Masses]? Is the space really going to get used?” O’Toole and many others were cautious about major changes to their beloved church; however, when asked about the results, he responded, “Excellent.
Riley was involved from the beginning of the project, when a renovation committee was formed to solicit ideas from many groups within the parish and to begin feasibility studies before any plans were made. Steve Wessling, President and CEO of Wessling Architects in Quincy and a parishioner since 1976, joined the committee immediately, created the designs, and followed the project through from start to finish. According to Riley, Wessling designed the renovation of the upper church in 1985-1987, and in both instances provided his services for free.
Because the church was originally built in 1922, then later expanded, many unforeseen structural challenges had to be overcome along the way.
Wessling said, “It required a lot of effort and talent from the workers, and a lot of patience on the parts of Jack Riley and Fr. Casey.” Overall, Wessling is thrilled with the outcome. He said, “So much good input came from parishioners and there was such a huge number of active people [involved], that [the new space] is really going to make a difference in the parish, which is already great.
Despite recent national economic hard times, the $3.5 million renovation is being fully funded by the parish.
Riley said, “Parishioners gave what they could, making one-time gifts as little as $25 and larger pledges spread over five years. A lot of people stepped forward and made the commitment to do something that is very important for us now, for future generations, and for the vitality of the parish.
It seems the church renovation is, in essence, a vibrant symbol of the renewed faith and community spirit of the parishioners themselves.
St. Agatha Parish serves about 9,000 residents, primarily in Milton and Quincy. Information about the many parish ministries and a photo gallery documenting the phases of the lower church renovation may be found by visiting the parish website at www.stagathaparish.org.
Tom Roux can be reached at
St. Agatha's Completes Renovation
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