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Community celebrates re-dedication of Our Lady of the Mountains


Local duo behind restoration efforts honored by Pope Francis



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As the community gathered last Sunday to celebrate the re-dedication of Our Lady of the Mountains Shrine in Bretton Woods, it also honored the efforts of a pair of local men who have devoted the last five years to spearheading a complete restoration and renovation of the historic church. (Courtesy Photo) (click for larger version)
August 24, 2018
BRETTON WOODS — Last Sunday, two lay members of the Catholic Diocese of Manchester received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal, conferred by Pope Francis, in recognition of the long hours they have spent over more than years to renovate the newly re-dedicated Our Lady of the Mountains shrine.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Joseph Orzech first served as a pilot in the Air Force, then transitioned to the civilian sector as a commercial pilot. He retired to Dalton, New Hampshire, where he helps lead retreats in his Gate of Heaven parish.

A native of Poland, Henry Tupaj immigrated as a teenager. Along with Orzech, he repairs parish buildings on his own time, calling on his years of experience in the construction trade.

Once both had retired, they found themselves brought together by a common call to serve. Together, they set to work in 2013 to the task of restoring the shrine of Our Lady of the Mountains. All told, they worked a combined 6,000 hours in the five years since, and restored the once and future religious jewel to its former splendor, and place in the lives of its parishioners.

Our Lady of the Mountains was built in 1907, and lies well within sight of Mount Washington. At the nadir of its condition, many expected the shrine to be torn down entirely. Indeed, it might well have been declared unsafe, given the state of its roof and structure. From foundations to the roof, there was rot, damage, and decay. Though the structure retained the outline of its former magnificence, a closer look revealed manifold problems both superficial and deep-rooted.

In the course of re-construction, which touched every surface of the Gothic Revival building's interior and exterior, the two men called on their construction and woodworking skills, as well as the assistance of a crowd of well-wishing aides and donations. Such contributions included scaffolding, which allowed the men to reach the crumpling ceiling and shaky stained-glass frames.

Both men serve in the Knights of Columbus, a charitable and fraternal Catholic organization, and is indeed the largest such group. The Knights organized several teams to assist the reconstruction effort, which became over time a truly community affair.

As a result, the shrine has been resurrected, and as of last Sunday, rededicated and re-opened. In recognition of the tremendous effort and dedication which the two men put into the shrine over the past five years, they received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal from His Holiness, Pope Francis.

The Bishop of Manchester, Peter Libasci, nominated the pair earlier this year. The Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal is awarded for long a distinguished service to the church, for which it is named: "For Church and Pontiff." The award makes no distinction between ordained members of the church and lay devotees; indeed, it is the highest medal that can be awarded to laity by the Pope.

The Medal was first awarded in 1888, and has been awarded to both men and women, including no fewer than six queens, as well as politicians, athletes, and poets on five continents.

Pope Francis is the first Pope from the Americas, and the first non-European pope in more than one thousand years. During his tenure, he has emphasized the need for the church to connect with people's lives, and to engage them where they are. He has also looked to strengthen the church in areas traditionally neglected by political and economic elites.

Our Lady of the Mountains has encouraged all to come and see its shrine, which is a testament to the power of a few people to commit themselves to a vision and a cause.

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