NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. – For someone who retired in October, Yankees legend Mariano has been a busy man, taking his vision of a prestigious church in New Rochelle and turning it into a reality.
Nearly four years ago, Refugio de Esperanza, or, Refuge of Hope - located next door to the police station – was a desolate, dilapidated structure that was crumbling to pieces after the roof caved in. Although city officials held discussions about potentially knocking the building down, Rivera, 44, saw what no one else could.
With the help of countless volunteers – and nearly $3 million in investments from Rivera’s foundation – the 107-year-old church stands tall and pristine. Rivera was in New Rochelle on Thursday to unveil his new church, which will be led by his wife, Pastor Clara Rivera, to the public.
“I wish you could have seen the way this place was before, but it was always beautiful to me,” he said. “It wasn’t easy, but we got it done.”
Rivera praised the hard work and vision of City Manager Charles Strome, noting how accommodating he has been during the lengthy process, going so far as to present Strome with a Companion Bible to commemorate their friendship.
Strome joked that he will miss bragging to his friends that the future Hall of Famer was in his office to complain about building and plumbing contracts.
“When we first took Mo to see the building, I figured would spend five minutes there, but we spent 45 minutes looking and he saw what I never could,” Strome said. “The history (of the building) has been preserved for the city, but it’s new and fresh for Pastor Clara.”
The building, which was once a Presbyterian Church, was abandoned in the 1970s before the city eventually purchased it. The building would later be sold to Rivera for $1 with the understanding he would renovate and refurbish it.
“The architect told me this was a long, hard, pleasant battle,” Mayor Noam Bramson said. “It was hard work to do this, but it was a joy to produce something of so much beauty.”
Police Commissioner Patrick Carroll was one of several city dignitaries to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony. He added that he is pleased to welcome his new, slightly famous neighbors.
“The Yankees loss' is our great gain,” he said. “This cements the legacy (of the Riveras) and New Rochelle.”
More than 100 people jammed into the Pentecostal Christian church on Thursday morning for a spiritual song-filled service, led by Clara. Pastor Tim Dilena, of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Church, gave a lengthy sermon, reminding him that collecting a Major League record 652 saves will be easy compared to running a church.
“Who would have thought that your journey would go from Panama, to the New York Yankees, and now hardest of all, to New Rochelle to pastor a church,” he said. “People’s lives are going to be changed by this place, better buckle up.