By Bill Buell
CLIFTON PARK — The Rev. Patrick J. Butler likes to keep his flock close, and the new circular worship space at St. Edward the Confessor Catholic Church in Clifton Park does exactly that.
“The altar is dead-center, and it creates a very intimate space,” said Butler, who along with Albany Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger, dedicated the new building at 569 Clifton Park Center Rd., earlier this month. “Our old church would seat about 975, and the new church has about 1,175 seats. But in the old church you could be more than 110 feet away. In our new space, you’re never more than 55 feet away.”
The new space — planning and a fundraising campaign for the new church began back in 2007 — is located adjacent to the old building, which is now being used for a variety of things.
“There is still construction going on in the old building, and we’re going to keep the main space open for a while and live with it like that for a couple of years and see how we want to use it,” said Butler. “This whole process began because we didn’t have enough room in the old building to do kids programs and other social events. We wanted to have a more active education and recreational facility.”
St. Edward’s was formed in 1967 and moved into its site on Clifton Park Center Road in 1969. It is one of the newest and largest churches in the Albany Diocese and continued to grow as did Clifton Park over the last 50 years.
“When we first came here in 1972 I think Clifton Park had about 10,000 people and now it’s more like 40,000,” said Walter MacKinnon, a church member since 1972 and a deacon in the church since 1986. “There was also no traffic. We didn’t have traffic jams back then like we do now.”
Crowds at the church, however, don’t bother MacKinnon.
“We have a lot of young families, and I think people just love the attitude we have here,” he said. “It’s always friendly no matter what’s happening, and it really is a true community of people. I’ve been to a lot of churches, but St. Edward’s really lives and breathes like a caring community. It is really something, and we are true to our faith.”
Fr. Butler doesn’t take any credit for St. Edward’s success himself.
“Well, Clifton Park has been growing for a while, and it’s still growing,” he said. “Location is important. But we also have a pretty traditional service, and we have a children’s choir and a youth choir as well as musical ensembles. We have a lot of teens involved with our music program, and we also have adult choirs.”
Schenectady native Richard DiCaprio, a retired Schenectady Police officer, didn’t know much about St. Edward’s until he was assigned there after he was ordained as a deacon four years ago.
“When I first walked into the church it felt like, ‘this is the way a church should be,'” remembered DiCaprio. “It just seemed like a special place. After almost four years of driving out here from Schenectady each day my wife and I finally moved to Clifton Park. We love it here, and the new building is just magnificent. It’s just a beautiful building and we all feel like Father Pat is a visionary.”
Fr. Butler, who grew up in South Troy, has been at St. Edward’s for 11 years. He was at Christ The King Church in Guilderland for 15 years before that and had also served at St. Edward’s for three years earlier. As his current church was fundraising for its construction project, Fr. Butler was out looking for items to help decorate the interior.
“We tried to build around many of the artifacts that we were able to salvage from some of the churches that have closed in the last 10 years,” he said. “We got some magnificent windows from St. Mary’s in Troy and St. Patrick’s in Troy. Those windows were 18 feet off the ground in those other churches and went to the ceiling, but we wanted to bring them down to ground level and we did.”
“Acquiring the stained glass windows from the other churches that were torn down was a great idea,” said DiCaprio. “They’re beautiful, and even though our worship space is brand new, it feels like there’s a lot of history there.”
The finished product certainly got MacKinnon’s approval, and that of Bishop Scharfenberger.
“As the Bishop said when he was here, there’s no hiding place and there are no pillars to get in anyone’s way,” said MacKinnon. “No matter where you are, you feel close. I think the new building is spectacular.”
St. Edward the Confessor, which held its first worship service at the Locust Lane Clubhouse in Clifton Knolls, is one of three Catholic churches in the town of Clifton Park. St. Mary’s Catholic Church on Church Hill Road in Crescent dates its origin back to 1868, and Corpus Christi on Route 9 in the northern part of town was formed in 1946. The current St. Mary’s building was erected in 1964, and Corpus Christi was put up in 1953.