Advertisements ad

August 2, 2009

Cathedral set to open Aug. 1 Following two closures in two years, parish ready to move on

By Joyce Duriga


When worshippers file in to Holy Name Cathedral Aug. 1 for 5:15 p.m. Mass, they will be seeing the church at its best ever, according to Father Dan Mayall, the cathedral’s pastor.

“Nobody alive has seen it look like this,” said Mayall during a recent tour of the cathedral before it reopened to the public following a fire in February. “We rebuilt the cathedral from the inside.”

The cathedral will resume weekend Masses, confessions and special events in the main church on Aug. 1, while weekday Masses will continue in the parish’s club room for the time being. Exterior work also will continue and includes installation of an elevator in the southwest corner of the church. The elevator is part of the cathedral’s capital campaign that began before the first closure in 2008.

Trimmed in gold

The cathedral’s gingerbread house-type wooden ceiling has always been one of the most noticeable aspects of the interior. Now it is buffed to shine.

“Every one of the 23,000 pieces of wood was sanded and refinished,” Mayall said. In some cases they were refashioned too. “In two years, over 1,000 have been replaced.”

The ceiling now radiates with with new 23-karat gold-leaf trim. It took workers approximately two weeks to apply the 1,500 strips of gold leaf by hand.

Fourteen iron support columns inside the church had to be treated for rust following exposure to water in February. Since each column is encased in marble, the marble had to be removed first, along with what remained of the plaster caps on the columns.

Each of the 14 caps sustained some sort of water damage. Every cap is unique and had to be remade by hand, Mayall said. They were crafted inside the cathedral’s main level while the pews were in Wisconsin for refinishing. The pews were refinished during the first closure as well.

Water also damaged all five canvas medallions added to the ceiling during the last set of repairs. The medallions, four smaller ones featuring traditional symbols of the evangelists — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — and a larger center one with IHS superimposed over a phoenix (the symbol for the archdiocese), also were replaced.

This time around, the phoenix was made a little darker and the position reversed. The medallions replaced wooden ones from the 1960s that started to sag away from the ceiling.

While renovating this time, crews found that the frame encasing the large rose window that overlooks State Street was deteriorating. Since the cathedral was already closed, they decided to remove the rose window and repair the frame.

Ceiling holds steady

Through all of the fire damage and the rebuilding, the ceiling stayed up.

“Our goal both years was to save the ceiling. They saved it twice,” Mayall said of the contractors.

If the steel reinforcements had not been installed in 2008, the ceiling would not have survived the fire in 2009, Mayall said.

“Last year’s solution helped this year’s problem,” he said.

It could have been a little bit of God’s providence too, Mayall said.

“There were so many things that that fell into place.”

Not the least of which was when firefighters responding to the early morning call in February asked Father Matt Compton how to get to the cathedral’s attic where the fire started. Compton, who was in the church removing the Blessed Sacrament, had been up to the attic during the cathedral’s closure last year and knew exactly where to tell the firefighters to go.

“Talk about the providential ducks lining up in a row. That’s the biggest case there,” Mayall said.

‘Skipping February’

Both of the closings happened during the month of February, causing Mayall to quip that next year the cathedral parish is “skipping February.”

In February 2008, it was wood falling from the ceiling that closed the 134-year-old building’s doors. This past February, less than six months after the cathedral reopened, a fire in the attic area just below the roof left the oak and walnut ceiling intact but did enough damage to close the building while repairs were made.

The fire started in the attic area between the decorative wooden ceiling and the roof, in the transept just west of the altar. Because it was above the ceiling, it was also above the fire sprinkler system. No official ruling on the fire’s cause has been made.

Firefighters were able to save the building by pouring water on the roof from hook-and-ladder trucks while others crawled along narrow planks in the attic, fighting the fire from inside the roof.

Paying for repairs

While insurance should cover the $6 million bill for damage from the fire, the cathedral parish still has the $8 million bill from the 2008 closure looming. That’s where the “All Join Hands to Raise the Roof” campaign comes in.

Various events are being held by the parish to help raise funds and parishioners have been asked to donate to the campaign. But more help is needed, Mayall said.

In the meantime, Mayall invited everyone who hasn’t been to the cathedral in a while to stop on in.

“You walk in here now and I don’t know if there’s a prettier church in the archdiocese right now,” he said. “Tough way to go about doing it though.”

For more information, visit