Archbishop blesses restored church hall

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Archbishop Henry Mansell of Hartford addresses the parish of St. Francis Church in Naugatuck during a rededication ceremony for the church hall Oct. 2 as Father John Kuzhikottayil looks on. –LUKE MARSHALL
Archbishop Henry Mansell of Hartford addresses the parish of St. Francis Church in Naugatuck during a rededication ceremony for the church hall Oct. 2 as Father John Kuzhikottayil looks on. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — Fourteen months after rising waters from a flash flood destroyed St. Francis Church’s Donahue Hall, the newly renovated church hall was christened with a special blessing.

Archbishop Henry Mansell of Hartford blessed the hall with a sprinkle of holy water on the morning of Oct. 2 during a rededication ceremony.

Mansell gave thanks for all the people from the parish, the borough and surrounding areas that lent a hand rebuilding the hall.

“We’re so grateful for all who have made this a wonderful story, a story of rebirth and renewal,” Mansell said.

On Aug. 1, 2012 heavy rains centralized over Naugatuck caused flash floods throughout the borough. The deluge caused storm water to back up into the church hall, which is the basement of the church at 318 Church St., destroying everything in the hall. The hall had to be completely gutted and renovated.

“On Aug. 1, 2012, I stood helpless as I watched the rising waters from the torrential rain in Naugatuck that filled our parish hall minute by minute. Within an hour the water level had risen to 8 feet, destroying our hall and everything in it,” Father John Kuzhikottayil said.  

Kuzhikottayil said the cost to refurbish the hall was approximately $500,000, most of which came was covered by the church’s insurance.

There are still some parts of the hall that need to be finished before it is officially opened. Some of the ceiling tiles have to be installed, furniture has to be brought in and the conference rooms need to be finished being constructed, Kuzhikottayil said.

Kuzhikottayil said he expects the hall to open by the end of the month.

Chester Cornacchia, who has two children in St. Francis-St. Hedwig School and helped orchestrate the rebuilding of the hall, echoed Mansell’s statements.

Cornacchia told those gathered in the hall if they looked around they would not only see a nearly completed project, but community members who made the renovations possible.

“You are the people from varied backgrounds who offered time, talent and toil. Some for weeks, some for days, and some for hours, each according to your ability,” Cornacchia said.

Cornacchia said the church received help from local contractors who offered free and discounted services, people who held fundraisers, anonymous donations and community members who were there for moral support.

“Through these many acts of kindness it became clear to us that not only was our parish hall being restored, but our faith in God was being reinvigorated. Our community was telling us that this parish mattered to them and they gave abundantly,” Cornacchia said.

Cornacchia said that even people who were neither members of the church nor community lent a hand, telling the story of the truck drivers who delivered the hardwood floor for the hall. Although it was only their job to drive the floor to the site, they unloaded all 200 boxes themselves because no one was available to do it and refused payment for their services.

“Each time we enter this hall let us remember the kindness that others have bestowed upon us, let us do good deeds, let us serve those in need, let us spread kindness and love, let us live our faith daily and inspire others to do the same, let us remember that we, though many, are one body in Christ, and, individually, we are members of one another,” Cornacchia said.

In addition to being used by the church, the hall had also served as the cafeteria for St. Francis-St. Hedwig School next door.

John Salatto, the school’s principal, said, students have had to eat lunch at their desks each day since the flood.

“We have a service kitchen in the school. I have a couple dedicated people who everyday worked to make sure the kids got a hot meal,” Salatto said.

Salatto pointed out that the hall is used by the school as more than just a cafeteria. Events such as science fairs and other activities that can’t be held in the school are hosted in the hall.

“It means a lot to the school [to have the hall open] because we use this for a lot of our events,” Salatto said.

Kuzhikottayil said, when the hall flooded, he promised his parish that it would be reopened. He said he was thankful he was able to deliver on that promise with help from people throughout the parish and community.   

“I always believe that when God sends anyone a heavy cross to carry He also sends a Simon to help carry that cross. This is what I experienced over here. I had not one, but many angels who came to my rescue,” Kuzhikottayil said.