Press-Telegram (Long Beach)

A Long Beach marble altar finds new life

- Dennis McCarthy Columnist

For 30 years, the old, marble church altar was stored on a ranch in Santa Clarita Valley waiting for Rev. Norman Supancheck to give it another chance to be of service.

It had been the first altar at St. Barnabas Catholic Church in Long Beach when it opened 81 years ago, and the time had come to replace it with a new, smaller altar.

Because it was sacred, the old altar could not be used for any other purpose, and no other church in the archdioces­e needed a 10-foot-by 4-foot, 4-inch thick, 500-pound marble altar. It would have to be destroyed.

Forty miles away, at St. Didacus Church in Sylmar, Supancheck was in his room reading when his brother, who attends St. Barnabas, called. They’re going to destroy our old altar, he said.

The two had been bap

tized at that altar, received communion and confirmati­on there with their five siblings. Supancheck celebrated his first Mass from that altar, married his little brother to his wife there, and celebrated both of his parents’ funeral Masses at that altar.

Destroy it? Not while he was still alive.

“I told them, I’ll take it,” the 78-year-old priest said. “I couldn’t let them do that.” They thought he was crazy. What was he going to do with an old altar? His church already had one. It didn’t need two.

Supancheck hired a profession­al company specializi­ng in moving heavy marble. He had a friend with a ranch in Santa Clarita who offered to keep it for him for a while.

His friend never complained when “a while” turned into 30 years.

The altar was forgotten, collecting dust and spider webs in the back of a barn when one day last year fate stepped in and gave it another chance to be of service.

A chance for babies to be baptized at it again, kids to receive their First Communion, couples to be married, and parents to be remembered with a special Mass.

The Rev. Bob Garon, pastor at St. Didacus, mentioned to Supancheck that he was considerin­g getting a bigger altar, but he was concerned about the expense. Marble isn’t cheap.

Garon had no idea that 30 years earlier, Supancheck had rescued such an altar from destructio­n.

“I told him I had a beautiful, marble altar I had been holding onto for 30 years, and he went, ‘wow, that would be awesome.’” Supancheck said. “There are not many altars like that anymore.”

Word spread through the parish. Who knew marble?

The old altar was going to need some serious polishing and TLC to make it look beautiful again for its resurrecti­on, and trip back home where it belonged.

A dozen men raised their hand. They knew marble. Sylmar is a hard working, family oriented community with strong men who work with their hands and possess skills they gladly give their church for free.

They took shifts working on that altar for weeks, making it shine like it’s never shined before.

Fixing every scratch, filling every little crack. Getting it ready for when the pews in their church would be full again, and Supancheck could stand at his boyhood altar and celebrate Mass, as he has for the last 52 years.

“Every day I walk by that altar now, I think to myself, amen.”

 ?? HANS GUTKNECHT — STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER ?? The Rev. Norm Supancheck, the priest in residence at St. Didacus Catholic Church in Sylmar, stands by the altar he obtained from St. Barnabas Catholic Church in Long Beach.
HANS GUTKNECHT — STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER The Rev. Norm Supancheck, the priest in residence at St. Didacus Catholic Church in Sylmar, stands by the altar he obtained from St. Barnabas Catholic Church in Long Beach.
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 ?? PHOTO COURTESY OF THE REV. NORM SUPANCHECK ?? The Rev. Norm Supancheck rounded up volunteers to help bring in a 500-pound marble altar to St. Didacus Catholic Church in Sylmar. It had been in storage for 30 years.
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE REV. NORM SUPANCHECK The Rev. Norm Supancheck rounded up volunteers to help bring in a 500-pound marble altar to St. Didacus Catholic Church in Sylmar. It had been in storage for 30 years.

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