Renovations give St. Thomas Aquinas a fresh, new look

Giant mural and restored stained-glass windows among the improvements

By Bella Gonzalez

St. Thomas Aquinas Parish is undergoing an extensive renovation, thanks to Father Andrea Povero’s aspirations and a good deal of fate.

“This is not me building the church, it’s the Lord,” said Povero, who is originally from Turin, Italy, and relocated to Jamaica Plain to preach at St. Thomas after being ordained in May 2018.

In the past year, St. Thomas’ church building has been transformed, with a giant mural and restored stained glass windows.

Located on South Street, St. Thomas was built in 1869 and hosts 250 to 300 English and Spanish-speakers. It is not only a historical landmark, but also one of the only Catholic churches still standing in the neighborhood. St. Thomas describes itself as a collaborative of three church parishes in Jamaica Plain and Roxbury, according to its website.

“We used to have five [Catholic] parishes in Jamaica Plain, and they tried to close three around 2004 to 2006,” said Michael Reiskind, a JP native and a member of the  ​​Jamaica Plain Historical Society.

Although the church’s building is in relatively good condition, overall it has been in need of basic repairs for years. The parish has a history of financial hardship.

Upon arriving at St. Thomas, Povero took matters into his own hands to best represent the church and its parishioners, he said.

“Two summers ago, I woke up in the middle of the night, [and] I went in front of the Blessed Sacrament in the rectory,’’ he recalled. “I said, ‘Lord, if the desire that I have in front of me comes from you, then give me a sign, open the door.’ ”  

That’s when the idea for the church’s beautification was conceived in 2022, full of spiritual significance from the start.

With a donation from a JP resident, Povero secured a contractor, Cardona Builders, which started Jan. 31, 2022, the feast day of the saint of his hometown, St. John Bosco (also known as Don Bosco).

Povero, recounting his good fortunes throughout the project, said he acquired roughly $20,000 of marble for free from a local mason who happened to have attended a school run by the Salesians of Don Bosco.

The amount of effort and devotion poured into the project was abundantly clear on a recent tour of the church.

The building’s original stained-glass windows complement the new layout of the nave, which features a floor-to-ceiling mural behind the altar and an in-ground baptismal font shaped like a cross in the center of the room.

The mural, painted by David Lopez, features colorful renditions of biblical stories set off by a radiant golden background. 

Parishioners have gotten involved in the project as well, using wood from the deconstructed pews to build new ones.

Caitlin Fox, a parishioner at St. Thomas for over 20 years, said she is excited about renovations, citing Povero’s energy as a positive influence on the church.

“For me, Father Andrea is just a living example of somebody with real, true, faith, which is really a beautiful thing,” she said.

It is unclear when the renovations will be completed, Povero said, but he hopes that everything will be finished in time for Easter. 

In the meantime, masses are being held in the basement of the church.

Pointing out the intricate and thoughtful details of the design plan, Povero took pride in how the space would represent Catholicism:

 “This is what beauty has the power to express,” he said, “the essence of God.”

Bella Gonzalez is enrolled in a Boston University College of Communication Reporting in Depth class, which focuses on community reporting.

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