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Delco church community bands together to rebuild after asbestos scare

A sneak peek of the long awaited improvements of Delco's St. Laurence Catholic Church
A sneak peek of the long awaited improvements of Delco's St. Laurence Catholic Church 02:25

UPPER DARBY, Pa. (CBS) -- A church in Upper Darby is surviving and thriving after raising over a million dollars to remove a massive asbestos tile ceiling.

After all their hard work, the church is opening again this weekend.

"I call it the miracle on West Chester Pike," parishioner Harry Dietzler said. "It's amazing once the word got out, that Saint Laurence was in trouble, people stepped up to help."

Only several weeks ago, the upper church of Saint Laurence in Upper Darby was a network and maze of scaffolding. 

Workers built a two-story floor inside the cavernous A-frame church to take on the tedious job of dismantling a ceiling full of tiny asbestos tiles.

Saint Laurence Catholic Church in Upper Darby had scaffolding up until only a few weeks ago after costly repairs to remove asbestos from its ceiling.

For three years, Mass was moved to a lower church while asbestos mitigation and an overhaul of the upper church dragged on.

"We're the group that said we're going to try real hard, it's going to work," John Mazur said.

And it worked.

Mazur and his wife Joan, longtime parishioners, remember thinking the project "impossible."

"I feared what was happening because in the beginning there was a real sense of a need for funds," Joan Mazur said.

Sneak peek of Upper Darby's Saint Laurence new ceiling 02:46

And a lot of faith was needed too.

From the very start, the project was daunting, given the size of this building. Parishioners tell me at times they had their doubts things would work out.

"I almost can't believe that it was done," Margie Kane said.

Margie and Paul Kane sat in their restored church, taking in what was believed to be impossible.

"A lot of people thought it couldn't be done. Thanks be to God," Paul Kane said.

"There's a lot of love in this place. A lot of people really loved this place and wanted to keep it," Margie Kane said.

The parish, at one time one of the largest in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia according to figures, is now somewhat smaller, but is home to vibrant Latino and Vietnamese worshippers.

All of those communities pitched in to help fund the renovations.


Parishioners said they also have a pastor who had vision to overcome obstacles.

"We brought in the best help we could get for raising money, and then we started to dream big, and said like, what actually has to get done," Father Tom Whittingham said.

Parishioners banded together in the end, raising $1.7 million. All are rejoicing in their faith this weekend, back in their upper church.

Dietzler calls the milestone moment "a miracle."

"And Father Tom has led us through all of this through the fundraising and just the energy and the excitement of 'we're going to do this, we're going to tackle this' ... when people come in here they're just going to be amazed, 'that's Saint Laurence parish? Wow, look at it.'"

Their new ceiling is a lesson of faith — showing the sky's the limit.

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