During this Advent, it has been a grace for me to follow the progress made on the renovation of Sacred Heart Cathedral. Each day some new detail in place, some further refinement achieved reminds me of the project’s beginning some years ago, and renews my awareness that it will soon be brought to completion.
The building is not yet furnished. But, the construction of the granite baptismal font and altar will soon be complete. The cathedra, or bishop’s chair, is almost done, as are the other sanctuary furnishings. Work proceeds as well on the ambo, or pulpit, which will be our former pulpit adjusted to fit new physical circumstances. The reconciliation area nears completion, awaiting some further painting and the arrival of furnishings that will allow penitents to confess face-to-face or anonymously, kneeling or sitting.
One of the gems of our renewed cathedral will be its eucharistic chapel. Just this week, a worker finished installing the first of the three stained-glass windows that adorn the area. The walls of the chapel have been painted to match the main body of the church, and the ceiling has been painted with the constellation of the night sky of March 3, 1868, the day the Diocese of Rochester was established.
You may be aware that the centerpiece of the eucharistic chapel will be the tabernacle from the old St. Philip Neri Church, which burned to the ground in 1967. That fire took the lives of Father George J. Weinmann and Sister Lillian Marie, who — the evidence suggests — lost their lives while attempting to retrieve the Blessed Sacrament from the tabernacle. The bare sides of that lovely piece (only the front was visible in its former setting) will be adorned with artwork from the tabernacle of St. Patrick’s’ Cathedral, our former cathedral. Elements preserved from Sacred Heart Cathedral prior to renovation also will adorn the eucharistic chapel.
Other things left to be done: 1) three niches — formed from the old confessional booth space — which will house statues of St. Joseph and St. John Fisher, as well as the holy oils used for our sacramental life; 2) delivery and installation of a statue of Mary and Jesus we have commissioned for the cathedral; 3) completion of the tile flooring in the church and in our new narthex; 4) installation of the sound system and completion of several technical elements of the project; and 5) final touches and furnishings for the church, office-wing restrooms and other auxiliary spaces.
Exterior work on the cathedral is no less exciting. The graceful plaza that replaces the cathedral’s old front steps will serve many liturgical and social purposes. The ramp on the Flower City Park side and the at-grade canopy-protected, vehicle-accessible entry on the Ridgeway Avenue side are handsome and much needed improvements. These features and the outside doors fashioned of mahogany and glass will make our entryways more inviting and our church more open to all.
The grounds surrounding the Sacred Heart buildings will be used for additional parking and for two small parks that will honor the environment of the neighborhood and, we hope, provide places of rest and prayer for those who might choose to enjoy them. These areas will be adorned by appropriate statuary and will be illuminated by handsome lamps for those who visit there in the evening hours.
I return to my earlier mention of the Advent theme: My day-to-day contact with the progress of the cathedral brings to mind both the origins and goal of the project — just as our day-to-day attention to Advent calls us both to embrace the past and open our arms to the future. During this holy season we prepare to celebrate the coming of Christ into our lives, his daily presence to us and his coming again in glory to bring his work to completion.
The completion of our renewed cathedral really will be a new beginning for us — a challenge to appreciate more fully and deeply who we are as a diocesan community of faith and charity, the ministry of the bishop as shepherd and teacher of the community, and our common call to holiness in the Lord.
Peace to all.