HAZLETON – A journey that began with the planning process more than three years ago came to a completion this month high atop scaffolding more than nine stories in the air.

Bishop Joseph C. Bambera joined members of Annunciation Parish on Nov. 3, 2020, to bless the Cross on top of Saint Gabriel Church. The prayerful moment marked the end of the first phase of a major renovation project at the Luzerne County church.

“This Cross is here because of so many people who helped make it be here through their gifts, through their generosity, through their efforts, for close to the century that this church has been here,” Bishop Bambera said.

The bishop, along with Rev. Mariusz Beczek, O.S.J., pastor, Annunciation Parish, parishioners and representatives of companies involved in the renovation work climbed scaffolding steps, battling windy conditions as well, to reach the limestone Cross.

“That Cross tells the story of so many lives that have been a part of this community, this neighborhood and this city, that have turned to God in times of struggle, in times of suffering and pain and war and upheaval and in moments of joy, just to celebrate their belief that it’s the Cross that carries us all through,” Bishop Bambera added.

In late April, contractors began the six month project to address urgent needs on the front part of the church. The main goals were to address a leaking roof and water that was infiltrating the walls of the building.

“This is really about preserving this beautiful church so that we can continue to provide services to God’s people for many, many years to come,” Rev. Mariusz Beczek said.

Tom Kennedy, one of the chairmen of the Capital Campaign Committee that helped raise roughly $1 million for the project, says the work was badly needed.

“My wife is an organist. When she would be playing the organ, it would be raining inside. The water was just coming in and there was no way to keep it out,” Kennedy explained.

Saint Gabriel Church was built in 1927. Kennedy says working to restore this important house of worship has been deeply personal.

“Our family was a member of the church since the 1920s, starting with my grandfather. I was baptized here, went to school at Saint Gabriel’s, we were married here, our kids were baptized here, and we buried our parents here. Saint Gabriel’s is a very important part of our lives,” Kennedy said.

The renovation project was only slightly delayed because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Companies involved in the renovation work say they were blessed with good weather. They were happy to finish the project before the start of winter.

“Between some extensive deteriorated joints up top at the bell tower specifically and many joints washed out that were in need of replacement, there was a lot of water getting into the building. There was a lot of water infiltration,” Dawn Van Fossen, project manager with Mark J. Sobeck Roof Consulting, Inc., said.

With the first phase of the renovation project now complete, Kennedy says over the next five to ten years, parishioners plan to embark on additional renovation phases to prevent any additional damage from taking place. Those efforts will be concentrated on the other sides of the building.

Seeing the scaffolding up outside the church has brought new life to this faith-filled community.

“I think it brought some enthusiasm and vitality,” Rev. Beczek said. “We are not giving up on this church and as a community we came together to preserve this beautiful site.”

“When we look at this church which has always just dominated the skyline of the city of Hazleton, it’s such a joy and a consolation to know that it will continue to do that because of the efforts of so many people who are committed, not just to the brick and mortar, but to everything that means as a people of faith,” Bishop Bambera said.

More information on ways to contribute to the Capital Campaign can be found at www.restorehishouse.com.