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April 12, 2009

Dinner like a ‘pep rally’ for cathedral

By Joyce Duriga


Next year, Holy Name Cathedral Parish might skip February all together. At least that’s what Father Daniel Mayall, pastor of the parish, joked to a crowd of more than 1,000 people at the “All Join Hands to Raise the Roof” dinner March 30 at the Palmer House Hilton in downtown Chicago.

In February 2008 the cathedral was forced to close after decorative wood pieces began falling from the ceiling. Inspections showed that the roof structure had been compromised over its 133- year life, and the cathedral was closed for more than six months as engineers figured out how to support the roof.

Then on Feb. 4 of this year, a fire broke out in the cathedral attic, above the sprinkler system and the church has been closed since for repairs and renovation. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

But despite the challenging February months, a joy-filled crowd turned out for the first major fundraising event for the “All Join Hands to Raise the Roof.” “It was like a pep rally,” Mayall said.

The event was part of a larger “All Join Hands to Raise the Roof” emergency appeal for the cathedral. The hotel donated the dinner so all proceeds went toward the appeal.

Cardinal George was on hand to personally thank the police and fire personnel who helped fight the early morning fire in February.

In what Mayall described as what “might have been the most touching moment of the evening,” the cardinal asked the fire personnel on hand to stand and be recognized.

“They saved our place of worship from being completely lost,” the cardinal told the crowd.

The eight men who stood were the first ones at the scene of the fire, Mayall said.

“They stood up and the applause started building. It started in the back and rolled forward in what amounted to a two-minute ovation,” the priest said. “I hope those guys never forget that.”

Meanwhile, more fundraising events and programs are in the works to help pay for the repairs. The cathedral hired a fundraising group to help coordinate the efforts. No fundraising goal has been set yet because “the meter is still running on the whole project,” Mayall said.

There are some large fundraising plans like the “Raise the Roof” benefit at the Palmer House. And there are the smaller ones too, like when a parishioner organized a sale of woven palms on Palm Sunday that netted more than $4,000.

“Our effort to try to get the cathedral back together again is just beginning,” he said, adding that help will still be needed once the repairs are completed. “It’s not a cheap fix.”

The lower level of the cathedral is almost restored. Structural repairs to the attic continue along with the ceiling where “there was a lot of damage,” said Greg Veith, manager of the archdiocese’s Office for Facilities and Construction.

The ornate plaster tops of the cathedral’s cast-iron columns are also being re-cast and repaired. They sustained much water damage where the water leaked out from the roof. The pews also went out for repair and refinishing, Veith said, adding, “they went out last year too.”

Each part of the repair and restoration process is an “invention,” Veith said, because the way the cathedral was originally designed makes for a challenging repair project.

Take, for example, the drying out process. “It was dried out very scientifically,” Veith said, so the wood wouldn’t shrink or curl. This process was monitored 24 hours a day for temperature and humidity. Instruments and gauges gave readings on the process.

“So far, we don’t have any buckling of the ceiling. But that was a big, big project,” Veith said.

There are also the trusses. During last year’s renovation lots of work was done to reinforce them. They suffered major damage from the fire and that damage has to be repaired.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation and it’s still uncertain when the cathedral will reopen. “I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Aug. 1,” Veith said.