GREENVILLE — One of the first things Msgr. John Hopkins did when he arrived as pastor of St. Joseph on the Brandywine Parish in July 2021 was have the church power-washed. He brought a fresh set of eyes to the Greenville campus, and in the time since he got there he noticed that there were other items that needed to be addressed.
So last spring, he and a group of parishioners approached the parish faithful with a proposal to make some necessary renovations in the church. After some fine-tuning, work began on Jan. 9 and were completed the last week of February, with a celebratory Mass on Feb. 26, the First Sunday of Lent.
His message to the parishioners was that the church is an old building, but it’s not going anywhere, and it needs to be maintained.
“It’s been here since 1841,” Msgr. Hopkins said. “It’s going to be here a long time after us, but now it’s our responsibility to take care of it.”
The work in the church included remodeling the sacristy to add more storage, removing a wall safe, relocating the sacrarium, replacing the countertops and installing new flooring. In the sanctuary, there is a new tabernacle in the center of the altar, its original position. Most recently, it was off to the side, with Joseph in the center.
“We just tried to put things back where they would have been. So, what we really did in the process, we restored things to where they were. If you were to go to the Hagley site … you would see pictures of really how ornate the church was,” he said, referring to the original church location.
The apse has been enclosed, and the statue of St. Joseph was moved to the apse on the right side of the altar, replacing the statue of the Sacred Heart. That is now in the rear of the church. There are new chairs for the celebrant and deacons. A new altar and ambo were installed. St. Joe’s used to have two terrazzo steps in the center of the altar. Msgr. Hopkins said a number of priests who have said Mass there stumbled on those steps. The steps are now gone, and a new terrazzo floor was installed.
The rear wall paneling and wainscoting were reworked and repainted. The reconciliation room was refurbished. The interior walls of the church were repainted, and all new pews were added. This last item was particularly helpful, Msgr. Hopkins said.
The previous pews had been there since 1941. “The benches were narrow. The backs were straight, and they were very tight together,” he said.
He recalled a funeral one Saturday where two women who were not parishioners came out of church a few minutes before the service with blood trickling down their legs. The heavy kneelers had come down and scraped some skin right off their legs.
“They didn’t know these kneelers weighed like a hundred pounds,” he said.
The new pews look very traditional, he continued, and they have four additional inches between them than the old ones. In addition, the backs are slanted, and the kneelers are hydraulic.
About the only original part left from 1841, he said, are the walls. Even they have been repainted and power-washed. The entire project cost approximately $750,000, Msgr. Hopkins said.
Having spent more than two decades as pastor at St. Margaret of Scotland Parish in Glasgow, Msgr. Hopkins oversaw the construction of that church and its parish office and center. He also was part of the design of the campus of Christ the Teacher Catholic School and its new gymnasium, so he has been through this kind of project in the past.
“I’ve done a lot of building. I said to everybody when we started this, ‘Trust me. I do know what I’m doing,’” he said.
Aside from the church, some bushes were removed from the front of the rectory. They were overgrown and blocked the views from inside. The next project the pastor wants to tackle is St. Joe’s parish center, which used to house the school. He said nothing has been done in the kitchen there since the school closed in 1973. Eventually, he said, he would like all parish offices to be located in that building. Some are now in the rectory.
All photos by Joseph P. Owens.