ROCHESTER — More than seven years had passed since Sister Mary Raymond Joseph Griffin was last inside Sacred Heart Cathedral. For Sister Mary Leona Didas, she hadn’t paid a visit there since 1964.
“It’s lighter. I just remember it as being dark,” Sister Griffin remarked.
“All I remember is that the ambo was over here,” Sister Didas said, pointing to the spot where the stand for lectors, cantors, homilists and other speakers formerly stood.
There’s a new ambo in a new location, and the lighting has become considerably brighter — just a couple of the many significant changes in the cathedral since its renovation was completed early this year. Regarding Sacred Heart’s overall appearance, both Sisters of Mercy responded quickly when asked if they were impressed.
“Extremely,” they said at almost the same time.
Sisters Griffin and Didas, who have served as longtime teachers in Elmira, traveled to Rochester May 15 to take part in a special tour of the cathedral. Although other regions of the diocese were involved as well, this gathering was geared mainly toward Southern Tier visitors. Similar regional tours were held for families and individuals on other Sunday afternoons during the spring.
Visitors spent much of the afternoon craning their necks and pointing their fingers at the cathedral’s many notable historic, artistic and spiritual features, with Sacred Heart staff members and parishioners on hand to greet the guests and serve as guides. Sisters Griffin and Didas were escorted around the eucharistic chapel by Robert Stevenson, a Sacred Heart parishioner, and were enlightened about the organ and piano by Ginny Miller, associate director of the diocesan Office of Liturgy. The latter encounter was particularly meaningful, since Sister Didas is a music teacher in Elmira’s Holy Family Catholic Schools and Sister Griffin is an organist for several area churches in addition to her duties as pastoral visitor at St. Mary’s Southside Parish.
The day also featured a “holiness hunt” — an interactive exercise for children to acquaint themselves with areas of the cathedral, such as the eucharistic chapel, ambo, ambry (where holy oils are stored), cathedra (bishop’s chair), reconciliation room, relics, statues of Mary and St. John Fisher, baptismal font and stained-glass windows.
Following the tour, Bishop Matthew H. Clark led a prayer service that began at the baptismal font and proceeded to other parts of the cathedral before ending in the eucharistic chapel.
Sisters Didas and Griffin had glowing critiques of several individual features. Sister Didas was impressed with the expansive baptismal font — “The people who were baptized at Easter time, I heard the bishop got right in there with them,” she said. Sister Griffin agreed that the font was “awesome” and was equally impressed about the history of the cathedral’s tabernacle — part of which was taken from the tabernacle of the former St. Philip Neri Church in Rochester, where a priest and nun died while trying to rescue the Eucharist during a 1967 fire.
Whereas the two Mercy sisters hadn’t been to Sacred Heart in many years, this was the very first excursion for Brenda Hatch and her young-adult son, Justin, members of All Saints Parish in Corning.
“It’s very ornate and beautiful. I think the baptismal font is impressive; I’ve never seen one like that. And the Stations of the Cross aren’t usually mosaics,” Brenda Hatch remarked as she enjoyed refreshments in the newly created narthex, or gathering area. Meanwhile, Justin was impressed by “all the angels on top,” referring to the images of 166 angels spread throughout the cathedral.
Bishop Clark, at the end of the prayer service, implored visitors not to be strangers at the diocese’s mother church.
“You are always welcome, this is your home. So, come often,” the bishop said.
It might not take long for Sister Griffin to return. Come holiday time, she could well be interested in passing back through the cathedral’s gift shop attached to the narthex.
“You could do your whole Christmas shopping in there,” she exclaimed.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Sacred Heart Cathedral is located at 296 Flower City Park, Rochester. For details on Mass times, special events and other information, visit the “Sacred Heart Cathedral” link at www.dor.org or call 585/254-3221.