The entire community of Grace Lutheran Church West Springfield mourns the recent passing of Alfred P. Casella, the architect who played a vital role in the design and construction of Grace’s current Westfield St. home. (See full entry for construction images.)
As the story goes, Grace began as a mission church in the early 1950s, quickly moving from a small frame dwelling to a portable school building that was built in 1954. But by the late 1960s, anticipating even more growth, it became clear that a larger, more permanent structure would be needed, and a small group of members took it upon themselves to plan the effort to build a new church and see it through to fruition.
Casella, an Agawam native, was hired in 1969 as the architect for what would become a brand-new church building located on the corner of Westfield St. and Woodmont St. Casella was charged with ensuring that the cost of the new church not exceed $210,000.00.
“Al repeatedly would tell me that Grace had a special place in his heart because of the great faith of its original (small) group of members in undertaking the building of the church,” said Council President Scott Kent.
Working with contractor A. L. Phelps Co., Inc., Casella and the construction team broke ground on Apr. 5, 1970. As part of the ceremony, Pastor Martin J. Luecke and everyone attending were invited to join in with the use of a farm plow and a long rope.
Eight months later, almost to the day, on Dec. 6, 1970, the new church was dedicated at a special worship service featuring a sermon delivered by Grace’s founding pastor, the Rev. Donald F. Jung.
“Al was very helpful and pretty much held our hand throughout the initial building and again when we added the school rooms,” in 1967, said Ed Welker, a longtime member of Grace. “Later we adjusted the rear of the sanctuary and added the organ pipes. More recently he helped us with the main roof replacement and was working with us again.”
Casella’s career as an architect spanned many decades. He played a role in the design and construction of numerous churches and religious structures, including the award-winning restoration of St. Michael’s Cathedral in Springfield.
“He has been a very valuable resource for us,” Welker added. “He seemed to enjoy the relationship that was cultivated over all those years. We will miss him.”
— Eric B. Parizo