Artifacts from St. John Cantius in Northampton serving new purposes
By Chad Cain
NORTHAMPTON - St. John Cantius parish may have closed more than two years ago, but its spirit lives on via religious artifacts that have found homes in other Catholic churches, some of them hundreds of miles away.
An altar was removed Tuesday and hoisted onto a truck that would haul it to Kentucky, where another Catholic church was in need. Other items, including stained-glass windows, are in storage until church officials decide what to do with them.
St. John Cantius, on Hawley Street, closed in January 2010 when the Diocese of Springfield consolidated the city's five parishes into the new St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish on King Street.
"We are trying to incorporate St. John's into the main church, but also with our other church facilities," said the Rev. John Connors, the pastor at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
An artifacts committee that included Connors and former St. John Cantius parishioners reviewed the items from the church and made recommendations about what should happen to them.
Member Bob Gibowicz said the committee tried to find local homes for many of the artifacts, especially those that have particular meaning to the parish, such as a statue of St. John Cantius and a stained-glass window depicting the Good Shepherd.
He has mixed emotions about some of the items heading to far-off locales and what that might mean for the memory of St. John Cantius parish.
"As all of these things start to disappear, it continues to add to the heartfelt sadness I and other parishioners feel (about the church closing)," Gibowicz said.
Arline Lula, who helped edit a book about the 2004 centennial of St. John Cantius, has not been involved in decisions about the religious items, but she said many former parishioners are pleased to see some of the artifacts in use at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
"People are happy to see things appearing in church," she said.
The stained-glass windows that lined both sides of St. John Cantius are now being stored in the basement at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
"The windows are in good shape and we want to make sure they stay that way, so we took them down as a protective measure," Connors said.
The artifacts committee will decide what to do with the windows. Connors said a few of them may be installed in a new parish hall that will be constructed at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
Meanwhile, the altar and Stations of the Cross at St. John Cantius have been removed and are headed to churches in eastern Kentucky and South Carolina, respectively. Those items were not needed locally and the committee decided to donate them to other parishes.
Connors said officials at the Kentucky parish are assembling religious artifacts for a church under construction. The South Carolina church did not have a Stations of the Cross, a series of 14 plaques that represent the stages of Jesus' path to his crucifixion.
St. John Cantius also had 19 religious statues. They will all be moved to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton or other parish buildings, including a youth center in Florence, Connors said.
Other artifacts that will continue to remain in use by the local parish include a paschal candle stand, a baptismal font and candlesticks.
Sylvia Newkirk said she likes the fact that items from her former church are in use at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. "I'm glad that they are being used there because it reminds us of our old church," she said. "It just reminds us of where we were three years ago and how we've become a Catholic community."
Newkirk added that she's happy that the altar and Stations of the Cross will be put to use in other Catholic communities.
"It's great we are sharing," she said. "If someone can use those things, why not?"
A World War II monument that long stood outside St. John Cantius has been relocated to the newly created Veterans Green at St. Mary's Cemetery in Florence. The veterans memorial also includes stones representing the branches of the U.S. military.
St. Mary's on hold
Plans to remove religious artifacts from St. Mary of the Assumption Church on Elm Street are on hold while members of that former parish continue their attempts to reopen the church. They appealed the diocesan decision to close the parish to the Vatican in Rome and have been denied twice. A third appeal is pending.
Tom McGee, one of the leaders of the effort, said St. Mary's former parishioners have not been allowed in the church since its 2010 closing and do not know what is inside the building. "We're locked out," McGee said.
He said religious artifacts should remain in the church until the appeal is decided. The church altar, he said, is made of Tennessee marble.
Meanwhile, the St. John Cantius site has been on the market for about a year. Connors said a sale is not imminent, and the decision by church officials to remove religious items from the building was a matter of keeping them safe.
The 2.2-acre site at 10 Hawley St. includes the former church building, a social center, a rectory and a parking lot. The diocese is accepting requests for proposals for the site, rather than setting a specific price, Connors said.