ROCHESTER — Sacred Heart Cathedral is scheduled to reopen in January or February after being closed for renovations since June 29, 2003. Since that time, much has happened behind the construction fence surrounding the cathedral’s perimeter.
The renovation project is approximately 65 percent complete, according to Father John Mulligan, pastor, who said a fair amount of the work finished so far has taken place inside the nave, where worshippers gather for Mass.
Before the renovations started, four confessionals were located along the side walls of the nave. They have since been removed, and three recessed shrines — which are awaiting final painting — have taken their places. One shrine will be devoted to St. John Fisher, patron saint of the Diocese of Rochester; one will be devoted to St. Joseph; and one will be used as an ambry, housing the sacred oils used to celebrate sacraments. The vessels used to hold the holy oils will be made by Steuben Glass in Corning. A doorway leading to the nave from the newly constructed narthex, or gathering space, was built in place of the fourth confessional. Confessions will now be heard in a new reconciliation chapel.
All of the church’s pews have been removed and will be replaced with wooden, upholstered chairs. Having chairs rather than pews allows for more flexibility, Father Mulligan said, noting that the chairs are moveable, can be interlocked for stability and include kneelers. The cathedral’s choir loft will be converted into an overflow seating area, and 20 more chairs will be placed in the new eucharistic chapel. All together, the cathedral will seat approximately 780, Father Mulligan added.
A new, octagonal baptismal font, constructed out of dark granite and large enough for full-immersion baptisms, will be placed near the main entrance to the nave. By late September, the forms for the font were in place, although the font itself had not yet been installed. The new altar will also be made of dark granite and will be located near the front of the nave and down the center aisle from the baptismal font.
Although the altar is not yet in place, the altar platform is. Bishop Matthew H. Clark placed more than 70 relics and 40 altar stones — donated by parishes throughout the diocese — in the altar platform during a short ceremony with the cathedral’s construction workers on Sept. 13.
“Conscious that this cathedral space is made holy by the holy communion of saints, the women and men from all walks of life who gather here in worship, along with those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, I have determined that relics of canonized saints gathered from the four corners of this diocese be placed into the altar platform,” Bishop Clark said during the service. “By the grace of God, in the presence of sacred ministers, gifted artisans and skilled laborers, I place these relics in their resting place on this day.”
Relics from St. Bonaventure, St. Elizabeth Seton, St. Francis de Sales, St. Lawrence and St. Monica — as well as from Blessed John XXIII and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha — were among those placed in the altar platform.
“This has great significance as far as the gathering of saints from the diocese,” said Father Joseph Marcoux, the cathedral’s parochial vicar. “It’s a great idea. The mother church has all these saints surrounding her. We’re building the church on the shoulders of the saints.”
High above the altar platform, 16 life-size angels stand on pedestals attached to the ceiling beams. These angels, as well as many others located on the walls, ceiling and arches of the cathedral, were repainted over the summer. New light fixtures have been installed in various places around the ceiling, enabling those down below to get a better view of the angels as well as the ceiling itself, which was also recently repainted.
Although the light fixtures are in place, the electrical work hasn’t yet been completed, Father Mulligan said. New heating and air-conditioning systems have also been installed, he added. By late September, the tiles for the cathedral’s new floor had arrived, and Father Mulligan expected the floor to be completed within the next six weeks.
Overhead, a rood beam now separates the presbyterium — where the officiating priest sits — from the nave and the transepts (either of the two parts that form the arms of a cross-shaped church). On top of the rood beam — which in medieval churches was used to support a screen that separated the altar from the nave — stands the same crucifix that hung in the cathedral from the time it was built in 1927 until the time it was designated as the diocesan cathedral in 1957. The crucifix had been in storage for the past 47 years, Father Mulligan said.
The ambo — from which the Word of God will be proclaimed during Mass — will stand in the presbyterium directly behind the altar. The ambo has been refurbished and modified to fit into its new location. The choir and organ will be located behind the ambo, against the cathedral’s north wall.
Bishop Clark’s chair, or cathedra, will also be located in the presbyterium. The cathedra was created from white oak and designed to complement the ambo and the cathedral’s Gothic structure. Presiders’ chairs, deacons’ chairs, a cantor’s stand, a credence table and a gift table are also being crafted.
A ramp has been constructed that leads from one of the transepts to the presbyterium, making that area — as well as the new Marian shrine, eucharistic chapel and reconciliation chapel — easily accessible to people with disabilities.
“We’ve done our best to make it barrier-free,” Father Mulligan said.
The eucharistic chapel has been constructed on the west side of the cathedral and will house the tabernacle, which has a unique historical significance. The tabernacle originally stood in Rochester’s St. Philip Neri Church, which caught fire on Feb. 20, 1967. Then-pastor Father George Weinmann entered the burning building in an attempt to save the Blessed Sacrament, followed by School Sister of Notre Dame Lilian Marie McLaughlin, who attempted to save him. Both perished, and they have been considered martyrs by many in the diocese.
Using astrological tables, artisans painted the ceiling of the eucharistic chapel to depict the night sky on March 3, 1868, when the Diocese of Rochester was officially founded. Three stained-glass windows from the west wall will stand behind the tabernacle. The windows are currently being refurbished, Father Mulligan said.
A short hallway adjacent to the eucharistic chapel leads to the reconciliation chapel. Across the presbyterium from the eucharistic chapel will be a Marian shrine. A statue of the Blessed Mother has been commissioned and will eventually stand in that spot, Father Mulligan said.
A newly constructed narthex runs along the east wall of the cathedral’s worship space. The eastern exterior wall of the cathedral and the western exterior wall of the rectory have become the interior walls of this narthex, Father Mulligan said. At the north end of the narthex there is a canopied entranceway from the parking lot, and the south end opens into a plaza. The new narthex is several times larger than the old narthex and will be very useful, Father Mulligan said.
In the summer, Mass processions might form in the plaza and proceed through the old narthex and down the center aisle, while in the winter processions might instead form in the new narthex, Father Mulligan speculated. This new gathering space can also be used for wedding and funeral processions, while small receptions or speaking events for about 70 people could also be held there.
An area extending off the east end of the narthex will include offices for the combined staff of Sacred Heart, Holy Rosary and Most Precious Blood parishes, as well as a gift shop. Another area extending from the east end of the narthex will include restrooms, a nursery, sacristy, storage space, the bishop’s conference room and a hospitality room. The hospitality room can be used as a bride’s room when weddings take place at the cathedral or as a place for families to plan funerals, Father Mulligan said.
Parking will be added at the rear of the cathedral, and the building’s exterior will be graced by two parks — one on the northwest corner and the other on the southeast corner. One of the parks will contain a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus while the other will contain a crucifixion scene. The parks will be open to the public, Father Mulligan said.
“Many cathedrals in Europe are surrounded by parks,” he said. “I think the city also encouraged us very much to try to create some green space; some public park space. It was a combination of those two ideas. We wanted to create a real neighborhood presence and a welcoming presence.”