Long road led to cathedral project
Sacred Heart Cathedral originally was built on Rochester’s Flower City Park in 1927 as a parish church. It became the Diocese of Rochester’s pro-cathedral — or temporary cathedral — in 1937 when the original cathedral, St. Patrick’s, was closed and sold. In 1952, Sacred Heart became the diocese’s official cathedral, providing a home parish for the bishop of Rochester and a site for such diocesan-wide celebrations as the annual Chrism Mass.
Discussions about renovating the cathedral had begun in 1985, resurfacing again in 1995 when schematic drawings were prepared. Each time parish and diocesan officials decided that the timing and financial circumstances weren’t right for a renovation. But in 1999, 47 years after Sacred Heart had become the diocesan cathedral, Bishop Matthew H. Clark decided it was time for the cathedral to be renovated.
Bishop Clark’s decision was based in large part on the fact that several elements of the cathedral did not comply with guidelines set forth in the 1984 revised Ceremonial of Bishops published by the Vatican.
“We were not in conformity,” remarked Father Joseph A. Hart, vicar general and moderator of the diocesan Pastoral Center. “This had just been put off and put off.”
In early 2001, members of Sacred Heart Cathedral Parish and several other diocesan parishes came together with Father Hart; Father John M. Mulligan, cathedral pastor and the other diocesan vicar general; and Joan Workmaster, former diocesan director of liturgy, to form a renovation committee. Barbara Kelley and Michelle Reichlmayr were chosen as co-chairs.
Around that time, Father Richard S. Vosko, a priest of the Diocese of Albany, signed on as the project’s liturgical design consultant. Father Vosko has been involved with the renovation process at a number of churches and cathedrals around the country.
By May of 2001, the chief architectural firm for the renovation was chosen, and in February of that year plans were released detailing changes to the cathedral’s interior. The last Mass at Sacred Heart took place in June 2003 before the cathedral closed for renovation.
The project originally had been scheduled for completion in 2004, in time for Bishop Clark’s 25th anniversary as eighth bishop of Rochester. But the project hit several snags along the way. Several small groups had begun protesting plans for renovation as early as October 2000. They held candlelight protest vigils and distributed fliers, expressing fears that the renovation would “strip the cathedral of its sacred character,” according to a 2000 Catholic Courier article. The proposed relocation of the cathedral’s tabernacle was a key point in the controversy.
In an attempt to halt renovation, opponents petitioned the City of Rochester in September 2002 to have the cathedral designated a landmark. Such a designation would have required the diocese to seek city approval before making certain changes. Although renovation opponents initially had several victories, they eventually lost their court battle in the summer of 2003, and the diocese proceeded with renovation plans.
In the spring of 2004, youths from around the diocese designed and painted dozens of plywood boards, which hung on the construction fence surrounding the cathedral throughout the renovation process. Work on the cathedral was completed in January, and a dedication ceremony was scheduled for January 21, 2005.
During the months the cathedral was closed, a new baptismal font and altar were installed; the building’s lighting and sound systems were improved; and the ceiling, walls and many of the statues were repainted and restored. A new Eucharistic chapel was created and an enclosed narthex, or gathering area, was created in the space between the cathedral and the rectory. More parking and small parks with outdoor shrines also were added.
The cathedral’s slate roof was replaced, a new office wing was constructed and the original office wing was remodeled to provide accessible amenities off the new narthex.