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Recycled church artifacts become financial blessing

| Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011

Looking for a new processional cross for the chapel at the Geibel Junior-Senior High School, the Rev. Bob Lubic discovered a treasure trove of significant religious items, including stained glass windows, altar furnishings and a tabernacle.

"I was thrilled," Lubic said. As school chaplain, Lubic has spearheaded the renovation of the chapel on the second floor of the Connellsville school.

Lubic conservatively estimated the items' worth at $40,000. "It's made my life a whole lot easier," he said. In the current tight economy, raising the money necessary for the renovation has been tough.

As significant as the cost is where the items came from — Holy Trinity Church of Connellsville, which closed three years ago along with 13 other Greensburg diocese parishes. The items were in storage at Holy Trinity's "successor" parish, Immaculate Conception Church in Connellsville, since 2008.

The practice of reusing religious items is common among Catholics. The neighboring Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh has two warehouses — one in an old church — that house aging, unused religious articles and statuary.

The Greensburg Diocese does not have a warehouse to place the articles that were mothballed after the 2008 church closings. Jerry Zufelt, diocese spokesman, said that responsibility fell to the successor churches.

In addition to furnishings, churches became the custodians of an eclectic collection of books, church records and other filings.

Ideally, Zufelt said, items are recycled or find new church homes.

"The items are inventoried; they're not something you just store away and sell," said the Rev. Joseph Bonafed, the priest at Immaculate Conception Church and administrator at St. Rita and St. John parishes in Connellsville. "There is a process the diocese follows."

Parishes take great care with religious items, Bonafed said.

"We don't take it lightly," he said. "The items have been blessed. There's a lot of emotion tied to these things — you have to be sensitive and respectful about them."

An example is a painting of St. Bede that was part of St. Bede Parish of Bovard, before it was shuttered in the 2008 closings. At a Mass of Remembrance shortly after the church closed, Bishop Lawrence Brandt welcomed the painting to Blessed Sacrament Cathedral, St. Bede's successor parish.

The bishop held similar Masses at a number of other parishes. For instance, he dedicated:

• A chalice at St. Joseph Parish in New Kensington that was from All Saints Parish in Arnold.

• Statues of Mary and Joseph at Holy Family Parish in West Newton that were from St. Charles Borromeo in Sutersville.

• A framed image of St. James the Lesser at St. Peter Parish in Brownsville that had been the property of St. James Parish in Maxwell, Fayette County.

• A statue of Mary at St. Patrick Parish in Brady's Bend that has stood at St. Mary, Our Lady of Snow in Parker, Armstrong County.

• A statue of St. Timothy at St. Anne Parish in Rostraver that was rescued from shuttered St. Timothy Parish in Smithton.

Brandt also was involved in presenting a statue of St. Vincent de Paul to St. Aloysius Parish in Dunbar. The icon came from St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Leisenring, Fayette County.

Monsignor Edward McCullough said in his role as director of diocesan missions he has been able to donate items to churches across the country and as far away as Africa.

"In the last four years, a lot of things have gone out," said McCullough, who doubles as pastor of St. Aloysius. "We have a lot of contacts."

One place that has benefited a great deal is the Cistercian Monastery in San Bernardino, Calif., founded by Vietnamese monks in 2008, McCullough said.

Chalices, candlesticks, altar books, vestments and children's' Christian books along with statues and other icons — all taken from closed Greensburg diocese parishes — are now being used by the Apostles of Jesus throughout Africa.

McCullough said his point person for the Apostles, founded in Africa in 1968, has been an African priest stationed in Eastern Pennsylvania.

"They are very appreciative," McCullough said of both the Africans and the Vietnamese Catholic monks. "They need these things, and we have them to offer. It's a lot of word of mouth."

Sales of church artifacts are never in order, Zufelt said.

Despite the prohibition, religious items from across the country are available for sale, experts said.

"The market is absolutely flooded with product right now," said Rick Lair, one of the owners of King Richard's Religious Artifacts in Alpharetta, Ga.

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