Although it is still unclear when the physical doors of St. Bonaventure Church in Huntington Beach will re-open, during Easter weekend the faithful viewed live-streamed first peeks at the inside of the renovated church.
A year-and-a-half and 200 loads of concrete after reconstruction began, and with a certificate of occupancy in hand, the church awaits only the lifting of the state’s stay-at-home order and the approval of the diocese to move in.
For the first time since work began in September, 2018 on a $7.9 million project that structurally shored up the church and added upgrades and repositioning, Masses were celebrated and live-streamed over the Easter weekend. On Sunday, April 19, the church received another treat when Bishop Kevin Vann celebrated the Divine Mercy Sunday Mass at the church, also shown via video.
With the 900-seat church finally open for services, even if they are only virtual for now, the homestretch is in sight for parishioners who have sat through Masses in the cramped confines of the church hall, endured delays because of a historically rainy winter in 2018-2019 and, finally, a pandemic that shuttered churches across Southern California.
“We feel a little like the people of Moses denied entrance,” joked Charles Falzon, parish manager.
“The whole parish has looked forward to the opening,” said Vanessa Frei, director of marketing and enrollment at St. Bonaventure School, noting the original target date for the reopening had been July 19, 2019.
Ironically, in March this year, Frei said the long-awaited certificate of occupancy for the church arrived the same day Gov. Gavin Newsom issued his executive stay-at-home order.
Although the wait has been long, leaders say the reconstruction of the church really couldn’t wait. Studies showed that since it opened on Easter in 1971, the center of the church had sunk six to nine inches. That required the pouring of an 18-inch slab and soil stabilizing, Falzon said.
Kim White, principal of St. Bonaventure Catholic School, called the extended reconstruction period “a spiritual and prayerful adventure,” filled with “a full range of emotions with loneliness and longing intermixing with faith and hope.”
“We gathered in His name as ‘living stones’ as we renovated His spiritual house,” Father Joseph Knerr, parish pastor, said in a prepared statement.
In addition to pouring the slab, a number of other changes were made, including turning the church to face west, installing an elegant baptismal font, removing chandeliers, installing a large Belgian tapestry, changing the courtyard, relocating the organ and building a new chapel. As important to many parishioners, according to Church leaders, the bathrooms were expanded and updated.
Many of the features of the original chapel were retained, Falzon said, including imported windows from France, and the church’s iconic Holy Spirit window.
“It feels like a new church, but with the original feel,” Falzon said.
Frei said the new orientation of the church also changes the way the light filters through the windows.
The bishop toured the church and after Mass said he would return to bless the doors, baptismal font and chapel.
That announcement filled church leaders with hope for the physical reopening.
“As we come together as one community of faithful in our renovated church, there is a sense of pure peace and love in coming home after a long and difficult journey,” White said in a statement.
“I think it will be a mixture of joy and euphoria,” said Falzon of the experience he expects. “Not just moving back in, it’s being allowed to get together as people of God to worship together.”