Preserving the past

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Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Harrisburg, Pa., is building a new church that is expected to be completed later this year. The church will seat 1,400 people, making it one of the largest churches in the Harrisburg Diocese. The new church will have a beautiful marble altar, ambo, baptistery and tabernacle stand thanks to a connection made with the Arlington Diocese.

The story begins in 1905 with the opening of Immaculata Seminary near Tenley Circle in Washington, D.C., under the auspices of the Sisters of Providence. Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore blessed the school amid much fanfare.

The all-girls school flourished until the 1970s when changing demographics led to a drop in enrollment. The school closed its doors in 1986 and the property was sold to nearby American University, which renovated the existing buildings to accommodate offices and classrooms. The old school chapel, which was built in 1921, contained the marble altar, two side altars and other sacred items, which the university did not need.

Father Robert J. Rippy, then chancellor of the Arlington Diocese, got a phone call asking if the diocese was interested in the items. The diocese, then in the midst of a population boom, paid to have the altar disassembled and placed in storage, where it sat for more than a decade. Unfortunately, the altar was unable to find a permanent home in a local church. But Arlington's loss is Harrisburg's gain.

Holy Name of Jesus Parish celebrated its golden anniversary last November by breaking ground for its new church. Members of the parish building committee began searching the country for a marble altar that might fit the style of the new church.

Parishioners Brian and Mary Metzger, Kathy Johnston, and Diane Skurkis came to Arlington last month with their pastor, Father Edward Quinlan, to inspect the old altar and other marble pieces that will soon have a new home in Harrisburg.

An altar of this caliber would probably cost about $250,000, according to Shelton Alley, with Vincente Stone Inc., a brick and stone restoration and cleaning contractor in Reston.

The diocese is selling the altar to the parish "for a nominal fee," said Tim Cotnoir, diocesan finance officer.

Alley took photos of the altar, labeled the pieces and disassembled it for storage. He will help Holy Name of Jesus give the altar a second life by putting the marble puzzle back together again.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2011