Two adjacent parish churches, St. Mary’s in Hopkinton and St. Theresa’s in Henniker, shared one priest, and faced the challenge of keeping two small and underutilized buildings open. The Manchester Diocese supported the idea of combining the two in one new church, to include classrooms and a nearby residence for the priest, plus accommodations for retired clergy. For both church families, this would be a project of new beginnings, but also of healing and remembrance.
When they hired SMP, the building committee had a clear idea of what they wanted, at least from the outside—a white clapboard country church in the New England tradition. Committee Chair Don Lane said, “We have a case of Shaker envy.” They wanted to walk out after church and look up to an inspiring view of Pat’s Peak to the south. Inside, they were less sure, but the design had to include important fixtures from both parish churches. They also wanted a chapel that would be open and available when the main church was not to serve parishioners with special requirements.
One major challenge was the sanctuary layout. To create an axial arrangement that would emphasize both the alter and crucifix, as well as the tabernacle, SMP designed a pair of retractable doors that concealed the tabernacle until communion, and revealed it in due course as part of the ceremony. The entire design had to be vetted for propriety and appropriateness to the liturgy by a specialist expert in the diocese, Father Grace. Although we approached this design review with trepidation, Father Grace was a charming and avuncular man who said things like, “Wow, great idea!” and “Hey, why didn’t we think of this earlier?”
To bring both parishes into the fold, we surrounded the alter with stained glass windows from each. The Stations of the Cross from old St Theresa’s, which were thought to be better workmanship, were incorporated in the sanctuary, while those from St. Mary’s were installed in the hallways that served all of the classrooms. Finally, we had to create the entrance toward the mountain on the south, despite the road and entry being to the north. To satisfy this need and to put the steeple in a mutually agreeable place, we sited it above the main doors, on the south side of the building, but designed the opposite north elevation with a formality to satisfy people arriving from the street.
Sheerr McCrystal Palson was able to fuse together the hopes of the people of the church along with the realities of cost and design.... Ultimately, a design that met not only the need for the present moment, but also the needs that will arise from a growing community, was accomplished.
Rev. Mark E. Dollard