By Nick Pappas
LOWELL, MA -- The founding fathers would have been proud.
Some 77 years after 362 families stepped forward to establish the Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church, a new generation of parishioners joined together on June 17 to officially break ground on a new education/administration wing.
The ceremony took place at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy in the rear parking lot, next to the area that soon will become home to the 15,000-square-foot building.
"I know all of you are proud of our heritage and of our church, and we are proud to be here today as we move into the 21st century with a new and expanded building," said Arthur Faneros, chairman of the Building Committee that has been working toward this day for four years.
"I have only one regret -- I wish our forefathers could see us now, and I wish that those who worked so hard to build our church were here to witness this event. But I know they are in our hearts, and I can feel the spirit of their presence."
New Wing to House Classrooms, Chapel
The new education/administration wing -- part of a $2.5 million addition/renovation project -- will house nine Sunday School classrooms, a chapel, offices, meeting rooms, restrooms and an elevator that will carry parishioners to each level of the church.
A new state-of-the-art kitchen will become part of the expanded church hall in the existing building, while the narthex will be adorned with marble and new mosaic icons by iconographer Bob Andrews.
"I am very excited that our dream has become a reality," said Parish Council President Ioannis Zaralidis, who along with Michael Eliopoulos serves as co-chairman of the Capital Campaign Committee. "The new education wing and chapel will become a gathering place for future generations to learn about their heritage and worship our Lord."
State Sen. Steven Panagiotakos of Lowell said he was honored to be part of the historic occasion, praising the parish for keeping alive the dreams of the church's immigrant founders. "Now today, you are trying to keep that dream going into the 21st century," he said.
Panagiotakos also commended the parish for its spirit of working together.
"This church is one of the closest-working churches I have ever seen," he said, ending his remarks with: "Congratulations. I'm proud to be here. I'm proud to be from Lowell. And I'm proud to be Greek."
Mayor Donoghue: Project "Important to the Entire City"
Lowell Mayor Eileen Donoghue said the parish should realize the building project is not just important to the future of the church.
"It is important to the entire city of Lowell," she said.
The Rev. Peter Gregory, pastor of the church, opened his remarks by thanking the Building Committee for all its hard work leading up to the groundbreaking ceremony.
He also singled out Nikolaos Manolis, the former co-chairman of the Building Committee, for his tirelesswork over the past four years in helping to make the day's celebration possible.
While praising the concept of building to better meet the needs of the parish, Father Peter reminded everyone that bricks and mortar are not enough.
"Faith can exist without structures," he said, "but structures can't exist without faith."
Site Blessed by Pastor, Hellenic College President
At the conclusion of his remarks, Father Peter and the Rev. Nicholas Triantafilou, president of Hellenic College and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, recited a series of prayers to bless the site.
Father Peter then was joined in the traditional shovel ceremony by: Presvytera Nikki Sarantos, widow of the parish's longtime pastor, the Very Rev. John Sarantos; Parish Council member Sam Zouzas, project manager; George Gogas, general contractor; Yiota Simoglou, Philoptochos president; Christopher Selvaggio, Men's Guild president; George Zaralidis, GOYA president; George Chouprakos, past president and longtime member; Jack Maib, a first-grader representing the parish's future; Zaralidis, the council president; Faneros, the building panel chairman; and Eliopoulos, the fund-raising co-chairman.
The architectural firm for the project is Dean Burland & Associates of Amherst, N.H. Construction Resources Inc. of Westford is serving as the general contractor.
As of June 26, the Capital Campaign Committee had raised $1.58 million in donations and pledges -- virtually all of that from inside the parish -- representing 63 percent of its $2.5 million goal. That leaves another $919,000 to be raised to complete the project.
Anyone wishing to participate in the fund-raising drive can send contributions to: The Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church, c/o Capital Campaign Committee, Father John Sarantos Way, Lowell, MA 01854.
Nick Pappas is a past president and editor of The Trans-a-Gram, the parish's monthly newsletter.