Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 21, 2004
Sermon written in granite, glass
Dean John Crowe used political skills to make his dream of faith come true
Sts. Peter and Paul -- June 29
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Agrand church, the most prominent building in the Westmeath County seat of Athlone, it faces the 13th century Norman castle across St. Peter's Square, its twin towers representing Sts. Peter and Paul.
This impressive edifice is the progeny of a man with a dream and the determination to follow it through. As administrator since 1921 of old St. Peter's Church in the town, Dean John Crowe saw the necessity for a larger structure to accommodate a growing downtown parish.
He decided that an appropriate site for a new "sermon written in granite and glass, in marble and mosaics" would be in the town centre, where the army barracks faced the central square.
After protracted negotiations which included reminding the military that their barracks were situated on land once belonging to the 12th century Cluniac Monastery of Sts. Peter and Paul, he convinced Church authorities of the Elphin Diocese to do a land exchange and to replace army buildings that would be lost with new ones elsewhere, a remarkable tribute to the dean's political skills. He also raised the money to build Sts. Peter and Paul while maintaining an openness and approachability to his flock in the midst of his regular pastoral duties.
Heartland of Ireland
Known as the Gateway to the West and the Heartland of Ireland, Athlone's central position on the island had it once considered for the capitol of the new republic. Its 7,700 residents live in an attractive site straddling the Shannon River at the outlet to Lough Ree.
The cathedral-proportioned building is a fitting monument to the two great leaders of the early Church whose lives are celebrated by the Church everywhere each year on June 29.
The First Reading for the feast day (Acts 12:1-11) recalls one ordeal of Peter, jailed for his faith, who after the prayers of the faithful for his safety, was miraculously released by an "angel of the Lord." The Gospel contains Simon Peter's famous profession of faith, "You are the Christ" (Matthew 16:13-20) and the formal establishment of Christianity, "You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church."
The Second Reading is taken from Paul's second letter to Timothy where he evaluates his life as a disciple of Christ, "I have fought the good fight - "(4:6-8), then immediately reverts to his role as a master organizer, issuing a variety of directions to Church members.
Constructed in 1937, their church faces south onto Barracks Street which becomes the Town Bridge after crossing the square. This location has the building flanking the river shore to the east.
A variety of construction materials, steel, reinforced concrete, Irish granite, marble and Portland stone were used throughout the church and to support the 150-tonne pale copper-green dome. A statue of St. Peter in a dramatic pose, dominates the fa‡ade high above a columned Doric portico.
Inside, the 1,000-person nave is flanked by green Connemara marble colonnades with a variety of barrel, flat and semi-domed vaulting rising high overhead. Although natural light is used for the church, a number of brilliantly coloured stained glass windows include images of the church's patrons. In the Boy's Sacristy window, many of the building sub-contractors faces appear on medieval bodies. Peter and Paul are also portrayed in stone in a small interior shrine.
With its size and central location, Sts. Peter and Paul is the focus of an active parish. In addition to weekend Eucharistic celebrations, both morning and evening daily Masses are said here.
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