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September 14, 2008

Holy Name shines for its re-opening Congregation sees new art, repairs, improvements

By Michelle Martin


Holy Name Cathedral reopened for weekend Masses Aug. 30 with full pews, a newly-buffed shine on the wood ceiling and terrazzo floor and tapestries showcasing the “IHS” symbol of the Holy Name of Jesus and the traditional symbols of the four evangelists.

Still hanging in the sanctuary were the five galeros — the red hats from each of the Chicago cardinals who died in office. By tradition, they will stay until they disintegrate, and they stayed through six months of construction and repair of the ceiling.

“It was nice to see people looking up again,” said Father Dan Mayall, the cathedral’s rector and pastor of the cathedral parish. “There was no reason to look up in the club room or auditorium (where Masses were celebrated while the cathedral was closed). But looking up is what people do naturally in the cathedral, because of the ceiling.”

Ceiling caused closure

It was the intricate wooden ceiling that caused the closure, after a 10-pound decorative block dropped onto a pew one night in February. After engineers began inspecting the ceiling and roof systems, they found that more wood was in danger of falling — indeed, more did fall after protective scaffolding was put up — and the cathedral structure itself was compromised, sagging as it aged.

Finding a way to support the structure without damaging the look of the building took some thought and originality, Mayall said, with engineers first proposing a series of steel braces throughout the body of the church. They later figured out a way to keep most of the bracing in the attic space between the ceiling and the roof, with four sets of crossed braces remaining visible. The braces were painted to match the ceiling to make them less distracting.

Meanwhile, all of the 23,000 pieces of wood were removed, polished and re-attached to the ceiling with screws, not the nails that held them up before.

New tapestries

New tapestries form the centerpiece of the ceiling. The largest is an image of the “IHS” symbol of the Holy Name of Jesus, with a phoenix behind it. Four surrounding tapestries show stylized images of the traditional symbols of the evangelists.

They replace heavy wooden medallions that showed the seals of the City of Chicago, the State of Illinois, the United States and the Papal See, and, in the center, episcopal crest of Cardinal John Cody, who was archbishop during the time of the last renovation.

Larry Cope, a parishioner at Corpus Christi Parish on the South Side and an artist at Liturgy Training Publications, designed the artwork, with ideas contributed by Mayall and Cardinal George.

The cardinal suggested including the phoenix, from the archdiocesan coat of arms, and insisted that the work have a modern sensibility in harmony with the rest of the artwork in the cathedral, most of which dates to 1968 and 1969, Mayall said.

Planned improvements

Parishioners who attended the first weekend Masses — and the four weddings the cathedral hosted that weekend — also noticed improvements planned as part of the Restore and Renew campaign. That includes the cleaning and sealing of the west façade of the building, Mayall said.

In his column in the Sept. 7 bulletin, he wrote about the moments that touched him as the cathedral reopened.

“There was the woman with an infant who reluctantly told me that, although the cathedral was beautiful, the best improvement was the diaper shelf in the lower-level restroom,” he said. “I evoked an even broader smile and a cheer [from her] when I told her, ‘There’s one in the men’s room, too.’”

Now the parishioners are looking forward to the long-planned installation of an elevator to the lower level, as well as the completion of the repair work on the structure. That work is keeping the cathedral closed on weekdays, Mayall said. Weekday Masses will continue to be celebrated in the club room on the lower level of the parish center.

“It’s mostly an issue of noise, and of staying out of their [the workers’] way,” he said. “The cathedral is safe to be in. But I’m looking forward to it being over.”