Shrub Oak Parish Renovates Former Convent Into Parish Center

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Cardinal Dolan blessed the new Seton Parish Center after celebrating Mass at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Shrub Oak Jan. 12.

The 5,200-square-foot, two-story parish center, until recently a convent for the Sisters of Charity, will have an outreach center, large meeting room, cloak room, warming kitchen and restrooms on the first floor, and four meeting rooms, a restroom and a coffee kitchen on the second floor.

The first-floor meeting room will accommodate about 100 people, and each meeting room on the second floor will hold 25-to-30 people.

WiFi, Smart TVs and an elevator were integrated into the renovation plans for the parish center, and the outside of the building was refashioned to match the parish church and school buildings on campus.

The parish center, which officially will open when work is completed, was a Renew + Rebuild project for the parish and will cost $1.15 million when completed.

“It’s been a longstanding need for the parish,” Father Robert Quarato, pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, told CNY of the need for more meeting space for parish ministries.

Father Quarato said new parish ministries are being planned, such as a parenting program and a club for senior citizens.

“Those are the two bigger ones,” he said. “We anticipate accommodating other ministries that used to meet at Seton and hosting community events. We haven’t been able to do anything like that due to a lack of space.”

Father Quarato added the parish was in the planning stages of building a parish center, but costs were too high to construct a new building. When Sister Gabriel Miriam Obraz, S.C., retired as St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School principal in 2017, the convent became empty and planning soon began to renovate the convent into a parish center at a more realistic cost.

“Given the current population and future needs and given the realistic population shifts in New York, it’s a realistic project to meet our current needs and also our future needs,” Father Quarato said.

The former convent housed the Sisters of Charity, who served as teachers and administrators at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School, which is named for the first American-born saint. The parish was the first in the world named for the founder of the Sisters of Charity.

The Seton Parish Center’s lobby will have a portion of the former St. Elizabeth Seton Shrine from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which was removed during renovations to the cathedral several years ago. (A new shrine to the saint has been installed in the cathedral.) A plaque in the main hallway will list every member of the Sisters of Charity who resided in the convent.

“We’re extremely excited because we have needed extra meeting space for decades,” said Janet Angelillo, 67, chairperson of the parish council. “To have a parish center is like a dream come true, besides having a wonderful parish. It will be great for spiritual and social life of the parish, and will bring societies and new ministries to the parish.”

The parish was founded in 1963. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School, which became a regional school in 2013, opened in 1966; the current church was built in 1980. A total of 4,000 families are registered with the parish, and weekend Mass attendance is 2,800 people. There are 1,100 children in the religious education program and 22 teams in the CYO program.

The parish center is the major project, and yet only a part of the parish’s Renew + Rebuild work, which includes air conditioning, upgrading windows and installing sound tiles in the school gymnasium, and purchasing a new organ and upgrading the church sound system.

Ken and Gerarda Brown, parishioners since 1969, had nine children and five grandchildren attend the parish school. Ken, 77, a member of the parish project committee, said the center gives the parish the ability to build a community beyond what it already has.

“It’s something we wanted and needed for a long time, and it’s coming to fruition,” he said. “It’s long overdue to have meeting areas which allows us to have ministries we’ve wanted to do and couldn’t do.

“We’re very excited and very appreciative for what the parish has done for us.”

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