Catholic Standard and Times Article

Where heaven and earth join, St. Helena’s soaring new church raises hearts to God

November 2004 – Catholic Standard and Times

By CHRISTIE L. CHICOINE

CS&T Staff Writer

Walk into the new church of St. Helena Parish in Blue Bell, and you’ll be at the heart of the cross.

The interior of the new church was designed to replicate the shape of Christ’s cross, said Father Joseph J. Nicolo, pastor of the parish, because “St. Helena found the true cross. The cross is our means of salvation, and our patroness is St. Helena.”

Cardinal Justin Rigali dedicated the new church Sunday, Oct. 31. The ceremony was the culmination of a capital project that replaced the former church, which was built in 1952, with an edifice that now has twice its capacity. The new church boasts more than 33,000 square feet and accommodates 1,000 worshipers.

The parish, which has 5,500 registered parishioners, or 1,680 registered families, also built a chapel dedicated to St. Thérèse of the Little Flower, as well as a new recreation and social center that opened in February.

St. Helena’s capital campaign has thus far raised $3.6 million for the $9 million project, and the sale of some parish property to the township several years ago generated another $4 million.

Father Nicolo described the architectural style of the new church as contemporary, reflecting elements of Gothic and English Tudor design.

From the stained-glass windows to the roof line, the new church structure soars. “Everything about the church in this style raises one’s mind and heart up to God,” Father Nicolo said. “This church edifice stands as a testimony of our living faith. This dwelling place of the Most High will ground the present and future generations in the faith of our foremothers and forefathers.”

Former parishioners of St. Ladislaus Parish, which is now closed, will also find many familiar treasures in St. Helena’s new church. Those include the crucifix, reredos [the screen of stone or wood at the back of the altar] and the altar, itself, as well as the tabernacle, stations of the cross, baptismal font, some ornate wood trim from confessionals, and statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, SS. Peter and Paul, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, St. Stanislaus Kostka and St. Helena.

A celebrant’s chair and ambo [pulpit from which the Scriptures or homily may be delivered] from churches outside the Archdiocese of Philadelphia also have a new home at St. Helena.

“It just looks phenomenal — it’s beautiful,” said Theresa Smith, 57, president of the parish pastoral council and chair of the parish’s arts and environment committee. “It’s just nice to worship in a church that really looks like a church. The old church was very nice, and felt like home, but the new church is more like being in God’s house. We finally have stained glass.

“We waited a long time for this to happen,” Smith added. “My hat’s off to Father Nicolo. He lived and breathed this church. He did a wonderful job.”

At one time, St. Helena Parish was considered a shrine to The Little Flower, and many Catholics made pilgrimages to the church through the years. Now, the new chapel for daily Mass contains the same statue of St. Thérèse before which those pilgrims prayed. Statues of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, as well as the stations of the cross — all from St. Helena’s previous parish church — also grace the chapel.

“As we gather here in worship and praise, this place truly is where heaven and earth join — where we meet God and God meets us,” said Father Nicolo.

“May God be praised for endless days in this holy place and may His blessings come to all who call out to Him in their need.”

Former members and friends of St. Ladislaus are invited to a Mass at St. Helena Church at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 28.

CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine can be reached at (215) 587-2468 or cchicoin@adphila.org

This article reproduced here by permission of the Catholic Standard and Times, owners of the Copyright to this material.