Building second papal altar is work of faith for deacon - Catholic Courier

Building second papal altar is work of faith for deacon

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard

By Mark Zimmermann

(CNS) — They say lightning never strikes twice in the same place, but at the
St. Joseph Carpentry Shop along a country road in Poolesville, Deacon Dave
Cahoon is having his second “once-in-a-lifetime” experience in the past seven

In 2008, Deacon
Cahoon built the altar Pope Benedict XVI used for his papal Mass at Nationals
Park in Washington, and this summer, the carpenter is building an altar Pope
Francis will use at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate
Conception during his visit to the nation’s capital.

On Sept. 23, on
the east steps of the national shrine overlooking The Catholic University of
America campus, the pope will celebrate the canonization Mass for Blessed
Junipero Serra, the 18th-century Spanish Franciscan missionary to California.

“It’s just by the
grace of God,” said Deacon Cahoon, describing the honor and the blessing of
building two papal altars.

The experience of
building Pope Benedict’s altar, chair and ambo went perfectly eight years ago,
the carpenter said, noting that altar and ambo are now used in the chapel at
the Archdiocese of Washington’s St. John Paul II Seminary.

Now Deacon Cahoon
is working as part of a team of 12 craftsmen, preparing 14 pieces of furniture
for the canonization Mass, including the altar, chair, ambo and side chairs.

Deacon Cahoon just
finished restoring the old steeple at St. Mary Church in Barnesville, where he
serves as a deacon. That project involved new slate, brickwork and painting,
with a new cross put on top of the steeple.

Now he and his
employee, Carlos Hernandez, are working hard in his shop on the altar for the
papal Mass.

“This is the
first piece of 14. I’m on pure adrenaline,” he said, laughing, later noting that
building the furniture will require thousands of hours of work by the team.

A friend and
fellow Catholic, Doug Fauth, the owner of Carriage Hill Cabinet & Millwork
Co. in Frederick, will be building the papal chair and side chairs out of
cherry wood.

The altar was
designed by Catholic University architecture students Ariadne Cerritelli,
Matthew Hoffman and Joseph Taylor, and it will be used in the national shrine

In an interview
with the Catholic Standard, Washington’s archdiocesan newspaper, Deacon Cahoon
said he was inspired by Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si'” on the
environment to use materials for the altar that did not involve any
exploitation of the environment or of indigenous workers.

The altar
includes a colonnade of 10 individual columns crafted from poplar, with its
main structure made of medium-density fiber board, which he said offers

Craftsmen from
Rugo Stone of Lorton, Virginia, will build the altar top with Botticino
Classico, a type of Italian marble. The deacon said his plan is for the altar
and ambo to be completed within a couple of weeks, so artists at the national shrine
can apply a faux finish to it to match the color of the columns around the
shrine’s main altar.

Deacon Cahoon
named his carpentry shop after St. Joseph, the carpenter and Jesus’ earthly
father, and he tries to emulate his shop’s patron saint. “I think for him, work
was a prayer.”

The deacon begins
each day with morning Mass at St. Mary Church. “It (the Eucharist) is the
center of my world, that’s where I begin,” he said.

Hernandez said
he’s grateful for the opportunity to join Deacon Cahoon in working on a second
papal altar. Speaking in Spanish, as Deacon Cahoon interpreted his words in
English, Hernandez said, “I’m able to put back in what God has given me. It’s
an amazing thing for my life.”

For Deacon Cahoon
and many of those working with him on the papal Mass furniture, the project is
a work of faith. “The faith journey is the big thing,” he said. “You go along
for the ride, and all along the way, you see the work of the Holy Spirit.”

– – –

Zimmermann is
editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.


– – –

Copyright © 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Tags: Art
Copyright © 2024 Catholic News Service, Inc. All rights reserved. Linking is encouraged, but republishing or redistributing, including by framing or similar means, without the publisher's prior written permission is prohibited.

Choose from news (Monday), leisure (Thursday) or worship (Saturday) — or get all three!

No, Thanks

Catholic Courier Newsletters