As construction was winding down at the new Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Church building in Limerick, Jack Schmidt sneaked in to get a glimpse of his past.
The retired Peco worker had grown up in West Kensington as a member of St. Boniface Catholic Church, which closed in 2006 and which was demolished last year.
But inside Blessed Teresa was a 37-foot-high reminder of the years Schmidt, 71, served as an altar boy, attended Boy Scout meetings, and went to school in the Philadelphia parish. St. Boniface's towering white marble altar had found a new home at the Montgomery County Church.
"It was a good feeling just knowing that St. Boniface was not completely gone," said Schmidt, of Clifton Heights, Delaware County.
The marble altar is but one piece of church history that now makes up the new Blessed Teresa building, a house of worship crafted from religious objects that have been left behind.
The church on Swamp Pike, dedicated in October, has been furnished largely with sacred objects from churches in that area that have closed in the last 10 years.
Stained glass windows came from St. Clement Church in Southwest Philadelphia, closed in 2004.
Murals and holy water fonts came from St. Peter Church in Pottstown. St. Peter and St. Clare in Linfield both closed in 2006 to merge and form Blessed Teresa.
St. Clare's Gothic pulpit is now the cantor's music stand at the new church.
Other objects include Stations of the Cross from the chapel of the former Mercy Hospital in Scranton, which closed in 2011.
"We live in a community where there is a 'lighthouse church' and a 'movie church' and we wanted [a building] with a strong Catholic identity," said the Rev. Paul Brandt, pastor of the church. "Once we got the [St. Boniface] altar, I was insistent that all the other pieces had to match that 19th-century Gothic look."
The result is that Brandt went shopping for pre-owned religious items.
The sacred objects that remain when churches close are preserved and stored by the Archdiocese Office for Closures with hopes that a local church will be able to use them, said Kenneth Gavin, an archdiocesan spokesman.
Stipends paid for the items go to the closed church's trust, money often used to offset the parish debt.
Since 1990, the number of parishes in the archdiocese has declined from 302 to 256, the result of changing demographics and shrinking membership. Ten churches closed in the last year.
St. Clare and St. Peter merged because both were growing and had bought parcels for new facilities, but neither could afford to build alone.
Brandt, a former president at Roman Catholic High School, was appointed to lead the combined parish and its new building, which would need sacred objects.
He found his first on the day St. Boniface closed in June 2006. He walked into the church and saw Blessed Teresa's future.
"I thought, 'Am I this crazy, to consider doing something with something so huge and magnificent?' " he said.
The altar was dismantled and put in storage until Blessed Teresa was ready for it.
Brandt also acquired St. Boniface's pipe organ, confessionals, and entire wooden back wall.
The church paid $500,000 for all the secondhand items, part of a total construction budget of $7.9 million, funded by the church's capital campaign, Brandt said.
Not every Blessed Teresa parishioner approved of spending so much money in a troubled economy.
The congregation, which has grown from 1,600 families in 2006 to the current 2,800, built a new education center and had been worshipping in the facility's gym.
"I told Father we don't need a new church. God is everywhere. The gym is fine," parishioner Sue Ferrier of Limerick said. "And having the new name - Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, who was so humble, I had a funny feeling about building something grandiose."
But the moment Ferrier stepped into the new church and looked up at the altar, she changed her mind.
"I thought this is the most beautiful tribute, to reuse beautiful things from centuries old," she said.
Several weeks after the dedication, the congregation invited current and former members of St. Boniface to a special service.
Schmidt was among the 60 who attended. He called his former place of worship "a magnificent church."
Its sacred objects are now helping to shape the religious worship of a new community.
"It's bringing old artifacts from different churches into one building," Ferrier said, "It's like bringing us all together into one family."