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from the blessing
By Tim O’Meilia
When Roman Catholic Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito flicked a holy water sprinkler to bless the new chapel at St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church in Delray Beach, he had some divine assistance.
The skies opened and heaven’s own rain christened the Perpetual Adoration Chapel, the new stained glass church doors, a new church roof and renovations at the school, the youth center and the parish’s St. Peter, St. Paul and St. Mary houses.
The bishop joked that he was thankful for the help.
“This is a celebration of these wonderful and beautiful renovations,” Barbarito said. “May they truly be a source of new beginnings for St.Vincent.”
“New beginnings” was the theme heard several times by the 200 or so people who gathered for the Saturday afternoon Mass and blessing Aug. 15.
Although much of the $500,000 in remodeling had been completed months ago, the blessing wasn’t scheduled until after the church’s past two pastors had been in prison for five months, ending three years of faith-challenging turmoil, ridicule and embarrassment for the parish’s 2,900 families.
The priests, both Irish-born, were accused of looting St. Vincent collection plates of several million dollars and spending much of it on travel, real estate, gambling, rare coins and friends. The Rev. John Skehan, 83, the beloved pastor of 40 years, pleaded guilty to grand theft of more than $100,000. The Rev. John Guinan, 67, was convicted by a jury of theft of less than $100,000. Skehan is serving 14 months and Guinan four years. The scandal resulted in Barbarito enforcing rigorous financial controls, including biennial audits of the books of each parish. The two convicted priests created their own slush funds to hide the true amount of collection plate donations from the diocese.
“We’ve put an end to these things. It’s all new beginnings,” said the Very Rev. Thomas Skindeleski, assigned to St. Vincent in 2006 to patch up the parish’s spiritual wounds. “That’s not to say all the issues have been resolved.”
Some parishioners left the church, although those who stayed continued to give generously. Enrollment at the parish school dropped.
The charming Skehan continues to have a loyal cadre of supporters. Some mumbled at converting the glassed-in pews behind the altar into a separate chapel.
“Our parish is not sitting and moldering any longer,” Skindeleski said of the building projects. “These are a symbol of our fresh, new approach.”
“We’re putting the past behind us,” said Angela Belmonte, an art teacher at the school. “Priests are human and humans make mistakes. You can’t lose sight of your faith because of one person.”
New principal Vikki Delgado has energized the school and faculty, Skindeleski said, and enrollment is up although he does not want it to exceed 300 students as it has in the past. “Ideally we want to have about 275 students so we can have a maximum class size of about 30,” he said.
Barbarito has visited the parish several times to speak to church members about the financial scandal, but he would not link the blessing ceremony to bringing closure to the parish’s woes.
“Whenever we have a renovation, we have a new beginning,” Barbarito said as he greeted churchgoers shortly after the blessing of the chapel. “Christ is the beginning and the end. This is a renewal of that faith.” Parishioner Donna Deschino waited until after the ceremony to get her own blessing from the bishop. “There was wrongdoing but the media blew it out of proportion to make the big story,” she said.
Barbarito credited Skindeleski with knitting the parish back together. “Father Tom,” as he’s called, cleaned house by encouraging those unhappy to leave, recruited the nuns, hired a new principal and encouraged the remodeling projects.
“The first thing you do is try to re-center the church after all its difficulties,” Skindeleski said. “Faith is what you bank upon. We’re doing that.”
Renovations completed in the last 18 months and blessed Aug. 15
Perpetual Adoration Chapel
— One hundred pews were removed and placed in to the main church and along the walls for use by those who have difficulty in pews. Forty-four upholstered chairs were installed in the chapel and its direct entry from behind the main altar sealed. Skindeleski said he preferred parishioners not attend Mass from behind the previously glassed-in pews. The chapel is always open but only those who register are issued key cards for entry to the chapel after 8 p.m.
New church roof, crucifix overlooking the altar and stained-glass side doors.
— The two-story first convent in South Florida has been converted for use as a youth center for middle and high school students on the first floor. The second floor is for the diocese’s counseling center and homeless program.
St. Peter, St. Paul and St. Mary houses
— All three were previously single-family homes donated to or acquired by the parish. All have been renovated. St. Peter houses the parish family life and religious education offices. St. Paul is a guesthouse for visiting clergy. St. Mary is a convent for two Little Servant Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of Cherry Hill, N.J., who teach at the school, a rarity in South Florida in recent years. One nun teaches kindergarten and the other handles sacramental preparation.
School improvements in the gym, cafeteria and science center, include new carpeting, new flooring and new paint.