It’s said hindsight is always 20/20. The Rev. Joseph Elston prays foresight is too.
The Rev. Elston, pastor of both St. John the Evangelist and St. Joseph Marello parishes in Pittston, looks toward the year 2020 with an optimistic and ambitious plan he hopes will address some sorely needed improvements and renovations at St. John the Evangelist Church and at the same time inspire Catholics who have fallen away from their faith to return.
He’s calling the capital campaign, appropriately, “20/20: Bringing our Faith into Focus.”
In a letter dated May 31, 2019, to all St. John’s parishioners, the Rev. Elston writes, “Our campaign has many aspects, not the least of which is a major evangelization effort aimed at informing many in our area, and even many who may belong to St. John the Evangelist but have not attended lately, to come back to us!”
In addition to evangelization, the campaign is designed to fund needed repairs to the 166-year-old church that the Rev. Elston said, “Realistically come with time and age.”
The church, which stands in the heart of Pittston and whose steeples, at 152 feet high, punctuate Pittston’s skyline, was dedicated in 1893 following four years of construction. At the church’s dedication, Bishop William O’Hara, said, “I must say this grand new church is a jewel. It is the jewel of the diocese.”
“Many areas of the church,” the Rev. Elston said, “are showing signs of age.” A consulting firm recently identified more than 90 cracks and fissures in the walls and ceiling of the church’s elaborately adorned nave. Some of the most pronounced are in the ceiling directly above the altar.
The artwork inside, which is in dire need of professional cleaning, is priceless, the Rev. Elston said. The triptych above the altar, depicting the Annunciation, the Crucifixion, and the Nativity, were created by famed Italian artist Lorenzo Scattaglia, who came to the United States in 1874. Of his religious paintings, Philadelphia Archbishop P.J. Ryan commented, “He cannot but please people of cultivated tastes for the beautiful.”
Scattaglia, himself, pronounced the Crucifixion at St. John’s his masterpiece.
Other artwork in the church was created by Professor Conippo Raggi, a graduate of the prestigious St. Luke’s Royal Academy in Rome. Raggi installed scaffolding inside the church and completed his paintings over a period of 14 weeks in 1930. He took great care to decorate the ceiling with ornamental borders, with the plaster being partly gilded.
Restoration work also will be done on the Kilgen Organ, which features 2,051 pipes. The organ was built in the 1920s and reportedly paid for by Monsignor Peter Winters, St. John’s pastor at the time.
The goal of the campaign is $450,000, which the Rev. Elston hopes to achieve through major gifts and individual pledges from parishioners and others. Pledges may be paid over a period of up to three years.
The Rev. Elston said the campaign will be conducted throughout this summer with the work, pending Diocesan approval, being completed during the first quarter of 2020.