SAN DIEGO — A $5-million renovation at Ascension Parish has turned a multipurpose building into a proper church.
“The space has been completely transformed to the point that it’s hard for people … to remember how it used to be,” said Bonnie Curtis, the parish’s director of evangelization and a member of the building committee.
The new church was dedicated by Cardinal Robert W. McElroy on March 25 during a Mass attended by about 400 parishioners.
For much of its history, Ascension Parish has gathered for worship inside a 19,640-square-foot multipurpose building that also houses the parish office. Between January of 2022 and March of 2023, the worship space underwent an extensive renovation.
The worship space was “completely gutted, taken down to the studs,” Curtis said.
During that time, Masses were temporarily held in the parish hall.
A 35-foot tower topped by a cross was erected in front of the church’s main entrance. The large, copper double doors at the front entrance are also new; the exterior features an artistic depiction of the Beatitudes, while the other side is adorned with an image of the Blessed Mother.
The church’s ceiling was raised, and a massive stained-glass depiction of Christ ascending to Heaven was installed in the sanctuary, behind a new limestone altar adorned with a mosaic of the Lamb of God and a matching ambo with a mosaic depicting the traditional symbols for the four Gospel writers: a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle.
Elements of the original multipurpose room, including its two skylights, were incorporated into the new design.
Don Trexel, a member of the building committee, noted that one of the skylights shines down upon the new baptismal font. Curtis said the other skylight provides light for the new stained-glass depiction of the Ascension.
“(The renovation) enhances one’s faith, and it also enhances one’s desire to be present in this worship area,” Trexel said.
Curtis, whose husband is one of the parish’s deacons, was 14 years old when her family moved to Tierrasanta in 1981, the year after the parish was established. Her parents decided that the family would worship elsewhere.
“They wanted to be someplace where it was a ‘real church,’” she said, explaining that Ascension was holding its Sunday Masses at a local elementary school at that time.
When she and her husband returned to Tierrasanta in the late 1990s, Curtis initially felt the same way as her parents had, but she ultimately fell in love with the parish community.
The multipurpose building, which was dedicated in November 1985, underwent a series of minor renovations over the years. These included the installation of additional stained-glass windows in the mid-1990s and the replacement of chairs with pews in the early 2000s.
But even with those changes, Curtis said, it still didn’t feel like a permanent church.
Masses were celebrated on a portable altar, and the nave could be sectioned off to serve as classroom or meeting space.
Father Edwin Tutor, pastor of Ascension Parish since 2014, described the renovation as “a graced moment,” noting that “the parish had been waiting for this for a long time.”
He said that, while parishioners had grown in faith as they prayed in the multipurpose building, there had been a “longing to worship in a true worship space, in which their spirits can be lifted up and they can be reminded of God’s glory.”