Standing on the pulpit at the Basilica Parish of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Southampton earlier this summer, Father Michael Vetrano brandished a handheld cardboard fan while addressing the congregation.The fan, he said, demonstrated the Hill Street church’s current air-conditioning system. The pastor quipped that the system allowed each parishioner to control the speed of his or her own fan—but he asked how nice it would be to have a more technologically advanced system for cooling down in summer.
As the listeners chuckled, Father Vetrano went on to announce the re-launch of the church’s “In Nomine Domini Fund,” which is dedicated to the preservation, improvement and restoration of the basilica. Over the next year, Father Vetrano hopes to raise $1 million to be able to make several improvements to the century-old house of worship, including installing a new heating and air-conditioning system, restoring the pews, installing new carpeting, restoring the church bells, modernizing the light fixtures, and putting in new bathrooms.
“We are focusing on restoring our heritage, preserving our heritage, and building for our future,” Father Vetrano said in an interview last week. “Everything we do here is not just to make a repair but paying attention to the things that were here when the church was built 100 years ago, and bringing back the original beauty.”
Construction of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Church started in 1907 and was completed a year later. The Roman Catholic church was funded mostly by Protestants whose Irish servants refused to travel with the Protestant families to Southampton for the summer without a church where they could attend Mass on Sundays. The church was built with discarded stones from the New York City Library, and the first Mass was said there in 1908. Currently, the parish has more than 1,500 registered families.
In the mid-1990s, then-pastor Reverend Monsignor Edmond J. Trench first launched the In Nomine Domini—which means “In the name of the Lord”—fund to help preserve and restore the characteristics of the historic church, which was named a basilica in 2011 by Pope Benedict XVI. At the time of the fund’s creation, the parish undertook a massive structural renovation on the mostly stone church; air-conditioning was considered at the time, but would have required removing some of the original structure.
Now, nearly 20 years later, Father Vetrano says with new technology, air-conditioning is possible, and that it will help carry the church through the next few decades. To accomplish the goal, the church will replace radiators with small, concealed heating and cooling units that are energy efficient.
A big part of the renovation, Father Vetrano said, will be the restoration of the pews. The seats are the original pews installed in the church at the time of its construction, which in some cases, Father Vetrano said, hold sentimental value to parishioners. Everyone, he says, has a memory of sitting in the pews for a wedding or a baptism.
“We want to preserve these pews so they are with us for a long time,” he said. “There is no reason they can’t be there forever.”
The same can be said for the four church bells, Father Vetrano said. The four cast bells were first minted in Troy, New York, at the turn of the last century. They have since been damaged by more than 100 years of exposure to the salt air, and are in need of a new control system. The bells will be preserved and given new mountings.
While a lot of work will go into preservation, Father Vetrano said there will also be a large focus on upgrades, citing the lighting system in the church. Although the plan is to retain the current light fixtures, the renovations will gut and rewire them, replacing the bulbs with longer-lasting LED lights. The new light bulbs will be energy efficient and emit less heat, cooling down the temperatures in the chapel. At the same time, the new bulbs will have a much longer shelf life, lasting up to five years as opposed to a few months.
At the same time, Father Vetrano said, bathrooms will be installed in the church. Since the church became a basilica, there have been more requests to use it for weddings and special occasions, and there are currently no facilities to accommodate guests who travel long distances or attend Masses.
“We are a small community and in a lot of ways this is a big building for our community to take care of,” Father Vetrano said. “It is not only a big building, it is a historic building with really classic architecture. We are a marvel, so we are really glad that we have a lot of friends in the parish and the community that can help us with our efforts.”
In total, Father Vetrano estimates the renovations will cost approximately $1 million. The basilica had already set aside roughly $150,000 from past donations, and it has netted approximately $525,000 since the fund was first proposed this summer. Father Vetrano also specified that money donated to the fund can be used only for the renovation and restoration project, and is not to be used for everyday costs incurred by the parish.
The church still needs to raise approximately $325,000 and hopes to complete the work by next summer. The church is not expected to be closed during the renovations.
Donations to the fund can be made online via credit card or PayPal at shjmbasilica.org, or by contacting Father Vetrano at the rectory at 283-0097.
“This is really to make sure that our beautiful 100-year-old church is properly taken care of,” he said. “We are calling it our renewal.”