Cathedral plans $11M restoration

By Dave Bakke - STAFF WRITER -
Published in The State Journal Register

“IT’S DEFINITELY needed.  It’s a Springfield icon.  A piece of history.” –Larry Acton, Cathedral Grade School Athletic Director

Cathedral plans $11M restoration
Project to shut down church for more than a year

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield will close for more than a year, starting this fall, as part of an $11 million restoration and preservation project.

There have been no substantial improvements in the Cathedral, which is on Sixth Street just south of Lawrence Avenue, since it was built in 1928, Bishop George Lucas said Monday. 

“The building is still in good shape after all these years,” Lucas said.  “But much of the interior beauty has been obscured by dirt and grime…  What was once flawless and inviting has become weathered and outdated.”

The most obvious change will be the addition of the atrium on the west side of the building.  The atrium will serve as another entrance as well as a parish hall for meetings and other gatherings. 

Part of the old convent will be demolished to accommodate the addition, which will temporarily displace some students at adjoining Cathedral Grade School. 

Principal Michelle Watson and the parish’s pastor, the Rev. Peter Harman, have been working with architects Graham & Hyde on the necessary adjustments.  Watson and Harman said there will be no reduction in services for the students.

“It might be a case of instead of having art there, the art teacher will come to the classroom,” diocesan spokeswoman Kathie Sass said.

In addition to cleaning of the church’s stained-glass windows, interior pillars, ceiling and decorative artwork, repairs to the building will include extensive work on the roof.  New plumbing and an electrical system will be installed, and the bell tower is in need of tuckpointing.

The Cathedral’s altar will be replaced as well.  The current altar is usually kept covered because it is a temporary version that church officials had planned to replace.  According to Sass, it has been a “temporary” altar for several decades.

About $4 million of the $11 million has already been raised, but parishioners in all the diocese’s 131 parishes will be asked to contribute to the remainder of the estimated cost. 

“The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is the anchor for Catholic life in our diocese,” Lucas said.

Half of the $4 million in hand came from the sale of land owned by the diocese at Iles Avenue and Koke Mill Road.  The other half was raised by the recent “Harvest of Thanks, Springtime of Hope” diocesan capital campaign.

Another $2 million is expected to come from Cathedral parishioners, and the remaining $5 million will be raised in the diocesan-wide campaign called “Built on Faith, Renewed in Hope.”

Lucas discussed the restoration and preservation project at a news conference Monday morning.  Also present were architect James Graham of Graham & Hyde of Springfield and Carol Frenning of Frenning and Associates of Minneapolis.  Frenning is a liturgical design consultant who works with churches throughout the country.  She is a graduate of the Institute for Liturgical Consultants at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. 

A diocesan-wide steering committee has been considering the scope and details of the project for the past year.  The Rev. Carl Kemme, vicar general of the diocese, is its chairman.  The committee made its recommendations for the project to the bishop. 

Dave Bakke can be reached at 788-1541.

Cathedral’s to-do list
Renovations to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception will include:
•    An 8,400-square-foot atrium on the west side of the church.
•    Extensive interior refinishing and redecorating; a new baptismal font; a sanctuary accessible for people with disabilities; and a new altar, pulpit and bishop’s chair.  The tabernacle will be refurbished but will stay in its present location.
•    Restoration and repair of the copper roof and gutter system, repair of the bell tower, tuckpointing of stone joints and cleaning of the stained-glass windows.
•    Repair or replacement of electrical, plumbing, sound and climate-control systems.
•    Additional parking west of the cathedral.
•    Improving entries and entry plazas to the north and south, including outside lighting for safety and increased accessibility.
•    School modifications due to the placement of the atrium (to be funded by Cathedral parishioners).

- Complied by Dave Bakke

Parishioners agree church needs renovation, updating

Larry Acton, athletic director for Cathedral Grade School, said that while he agrees with the need for renovations at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, they don’t quite go far enough to suit him.

“If they’re going to spend $11 million, they need to build a gym for the school,” Acton said.  “I’m always calling around, trying to beg some gym time somewhere.”

Cathedral students have physical education classes outside when the weather permits or inside the school if the weather is not good.

Otherwise, Acton said, he has no quarrel with the extensive work planned for the Cathedral. 

“It’s definitely needed,” he said.  “It’s a Springfield icon.  A piece of history.  The church needs a lot of work.” 

Barb Copeland ushers at Cathedral on Saturdays.  She also sees the need for the project, though she cringes at the $11 million price tag.  Copeland, whose grandchildren attend Cathedral school, also wishes that a gymnasium were part of the plans.

“I see the need, but not necessarily for everything they’re doing,” she said.  “If you look around, you can see it does need attention.  This will certainly brighten things up…  What are they saying, it’s been 80 years?  Anything that old needs attention, so, yes, I can see where the bishop is coming from.”

Lifelong Cathedral parishioner P.J. Staab said he’s all for the planned restoration.  Staab said that in his 50 years, the only major improvement that has been completed is new carpet in the aisles. 

“They did that because the floor wore out,” he said.  “Absolutely, I see the need.  I think we’ve got a responsibility to maintain it for the whole diocese.  As a Cathedral parishioner, we take that responsibility very seriously.”

Church details
•    The cathedral was dedicated by Bishop James A. Griffin in 1928. 
•    It includes the bishop’s living quarters.
•    It is the site for ordinations of priests, the rite of election for new Catholics and the annual Chrism Mass.
•    The interior roof is 50 feet high.
•    The sanctuary features Greek revival architecture. 
•    The church is modeled after St. Mary Major, a church in Rome.
•    Its exterior is constructed of yellow Mankato stone.
•    The sanctuary is constructed of marble and mosaic, including a Venetian mosaic Stations of the Cross.

- Complied by Dave Bakke

Cathedral plans $11M restoration (PDF 3.18 Mb)

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