2002-11-24 On September 27, 1959, His Eminence Francis Cardinal Spellman solemnly blessed the Church of Our Saviour

November 24, 2002

On September 27, 1959, His Eminence Francis Cardinal Spellman solemnly blessed the Church of Our Saviour. The parish had been chartered on September 30, 1955, and the first Sunday Mass was celebrated in the Midston House, which stood on the site of the present Doral Hotel. Daily services began on Ash Wednesday in 1956 in a provisional chapel located at 72 Park Avenue. Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Donahue broke ground for the church on April 1 of the same year and on Christmas Eve, 1957, the Blessed Sacrament was transferred from the little chapel to the completed undercroft of the new church where the first Mass was celebrated on Christmas Day. Construction continued on the rest of the building and the upper church was first used on Ash Wednesday in 1959.

An aluminum company offered to donate the complete structural frame of the church, provided the design be in the latest modernistic style of the 1950s. This was not done, and that nadir of architecture did not inflict an eyesore on Park Avenue. Because no expense seemed to be spared, we have what we now have: all the bronze work, woodcarvings and inlays are treasures. Modern engineering enhanced Romanesque design, and the newspapers marveled at the skill used to place the two Languedoc marble columns in the sanctuary, six tons each, which after being quarried in France were polished in Italy and remain the largest uncut marble columns in the city. Factors including the immense expense of construction made payment of the mortgage debt a long process. Some thought it would never be paid, and many even said Cardinal Spellman had made a mistake.

The Code of Canon Law which then obtained did not allow for the consecration of a church in debt. One could not give to God what was owned by a bank. The church was dedicated and the altars consecrated, with relics, but the full consecration with anointing of the walls would await the payment of the mortgage. The revised Code does not make the same distinction between dedicating and consecrating. The Solemn Dedication of the church on December 9 will complete the rituals begun in 1959. As we look forward to Thanksgiving Day, we add gratitude that this dedication approaches. Like a graduation or an ordination, it is in truth the completion of a preparation. The work of caring for what we have inherited and growing in Christian witness now enters a new phase. Some of our original parishioners are still with us and deserve to enjoy these moments. Many new parishioners and friends will want to do their part. We can be Churchillian about this spiritual challenge by saying that it is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning.

Fr. George W. Rutler

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