Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piche' Talks About His New Job; No. One is to pay off the Cathedral Restoration Debt

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You are the vicar of the Cathedral of St. Paul. What does that entail?
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Bishop Piché
It’s not unusual for auxiliary bishops in various large dioceses to have a specialized area of attention — it might be a geographical vicariate, as we had in the past. This is more programmatic. It’s with regard to one very special part of our archdiocesan experience — the important role that the Cathedral church plays in the life of the faith for the whole archdiocese and beyond, in the life of the community and the state.

We’re at a moment of crisis with the Cathedral in terms of its ongoing stability financially. The external work on the dome was only partially covered by the [fundraising] campaign that was taken up at the time as well as the Growing in Faith campaign. But neither of those campaigns realized the full amount that was needed to really make that project complete. So we’re doing some catch up work.

The Cathedral debt, the Cathedral repairs and all that goes on in terms of keeping that beautiful temple of our faith up and running isn’t just the Cathedral parish’s problem. It’s really the concern of the whole archdiocese.

What will you do in this role?

I’ve already used my role, both as bishop and as vicar, to invite our pastors to have a lunch with me and with the Cathedral rector, Father Joseph Johnson, to give them better information about the case of why we need the ongoing help and support of the people in their parishes for the payment against the [cathedral] debt.

I will probably be expanding my role as a kind of ambassador of the Cathedral, not only to the Catholic faithful of the archdiocese, but also to the broader community. We’re hoping that the state of Minnesota and the city of St. Paul continue to recognize that they have in this Cathedral a beautiful gem that attracts people to our city.

I will also help coordinate efforts toward a long-term plan for the viability of the Cathedral, for its continuing maintenance, and work closely with Father Johnson, who has through his efforts established the Cathedral Heritage Foundation. That foundation isn’t per se a Catholic foundation. It’s a more broad-based foundation to attract to the table people in this community who have an interest in enhancing the Cathedral — both its physical structure and its role within the community as a place where sacred arts can take place.

Could you explain a little more about that case you are laying out for priests and others?

A while back, I received a letter from a parishioner in one of our rural parishes asking, “Why does the Cathedral get a special collection? We could sure use a special collection.”

I wrote back saying we do have a concern for our parishes, certainly. The Cathedral is a parish, but it is more than a parish. It’s the church that belongs to every Catholic in this archdiocese. It’s our mother church.

So, not only do we have our parish, we also belong here. This is where we have our liturgies which, in some respect, are the highest liturgies of our church — when the clergy, religious and lay faithful gather with their shepherd, who is the vicar of Christ for them in this local church. [The Cathedral is] the primary place for that.

What is the extent of the debt right now?

The project cost a little under $30 million. All but $12.8 million of that was paid through the capital campaign the Cathedral first had and then the Growing in Faith campaign as well as some other connecting gifts from Growing in Faith.

The actual cost of the project is increased by the interest payments. The amount of principal requires that we keep up with monthly payments on interest. The Cathedral has been able to do a great deal of that, but it puts a real strain on their other financial needs. The archdiocese has then stepped in. This is another answer to the people in the parishes who ask, “Why can’t you help us?” It’s because we have this obligation. We have to take the responsibility.

That saps our program money — the aid we could be giving to schools that are struggling, the aid we could be giving to other forms of ministry: Hispanic ministry, supporting family life, and so on. All of these things we have to cut back in order to make sure we’re taking care of this responsibility. If we default on the loan, then our collateral goes to the lender.

The cost of the renovation, some people may say, why did we do it if we couldn’t afford it? Was that a good decision?

That was the only decision that we had. It was either that or allow the Cathedral to continue to go into decay. It needed a new roof. Everyone who looked at it agreed. Because this is itself a historic landmark, it falls under certain restrictions and it could not be fixed in any other way but by restoration. So restoration was dictated by its status as a historic landmark.

There are a lot of second collections happening these days in our parishes, and people tend to be generous. But this is another one. What do you want people to think about when they are considering to give to this one for the cathedral?

I and the archbishop and the rector of the Cathedral, we’re very, very aware that we’re asking our people to contribute to a lot of things.

What we’re really trying to do in this collection is reach out to those folks who maybe haven’t had the Cathedral much on their radar. . . . We’re really trying to reach out to solicit some support from people who maybe never thought about this as a possible way of supporting [the church] and maybe aren’t really stretched yet in terms of their philanthropy.
The Catholic Spirit
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