Renovation progress 'a joy' - Catholic Courier
Matthew H. Clark Matthew H. Clark

Renovation progress ‘a joy’

When I returned from a delightful vacation, it was a great joy to see the progress made on the renovation of Sacred Heart Cathedral while I was away.

Most of the scaffolding has been removed from the church, opening to view the remarkable beauty of the decorative painting that has been done. Even without the benefit of the upgraded lighting system, the church has an exciting brightness to it.

The Blessed Sacrament chapel is still scaffolded because the painting there is not yet complete. But even with the scaffolding still in place, this new space for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament and for quiet prayer excites the imagination. It will truly be a jewel when it is complete.

Just beyond the Blessed Sacrament Chapel — accessed through a skylight-illumined waiting area — are two attractive rooms for the celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation.

The four confessional booths in the nave of the church have been removed. The spaces they occupied have been converted to a doorway allowing access to the narthex, and three attractive niches — one for reservation of the holy oils used for our sacramental life, one for St. John Fisher and one for St. Joseph. Our Blessed Mother will be honored in the space once devoted to St. John Fisher.

Much steel work was accomplished in my absence. One can now see the steel skeletons of the new narthex, the office wing and the canopy which will shelter those using the at-grade entrance on the Ridgeway Avenue side of the church.

I am especially fascinated by the narthex, and the liturgical, spiritual, social and cultural possibilities that space will open to us. That space is being constructed between the church and the parish house and runs the entire length of the church. The exterior walls of the church and the parish house will be the interior walls of the narthex.

An extra bonus for me in this first post-vacation review of progress on the cathedral was the company of an old friend of mine, Father Val Handwerker from the Diocese of Memphis, Tenn.

Val was one the first students I met when I joined the staff of the North American College in Rome in 1972. I attended his ordination to priesthood in Memphis in 1974 and was delighted to reconnect with him during his 30th anniversary year.

There’s more to the story. Val is pastor of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Memphis which was renovated three years ago. And guess what? That project enjoyed the services of the same liturgical consultant, the same architect and the same artistic painting firm as we have.

Early in our process, Fathers John Mulligan, Joe Hart and I went to Memphis to see their magnificent renewed cathedral and to learn what we could from their experience. The trip was very much worthwhile for all of us, and Val was a big part of making it so.

For all of those reasons, it was gratifying to observe Val’s obvious pleasure in the work we have done thus far. He was deeply impressed by what he saw.

You might be interested to know some of the interesting parallels between the Memphis experience and ours. Their cathedral was closed for 18 months for the renovation. Ours will be closed for just about that length of time. They also had opposition from individuals who objected to the alteration of structures and practices to which they had become deeply attached. They, like us, had never experienced life in a building constructed (or renovated) according to the church’s norms for cathedrals.

Val reports to us that the misgivings and concerns melted away when people saw the completed work and had the opportunity to gather for worship in their renewed facility. Not only is the worship of the community enhanced by their new environment, but also the cathedral has become a strong symbol of the unity of the whole local church, and a focal point for diocesan life. I pray daily that we too will be so blessed upon completion of this work. But, more about that later.

Peace to all.

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