Saturday, September 26, 2009

Archdiocese passing the plate for St. Paul Cathedral

With a debt of nearly $13 million and crumbling walls that endanger the priceless 25-foot high mosaics on its prized cathedral, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is asking Catholics and non-Catholics alike to open their wallets a bit wider this weekend.

The archdiocese spent more than $30 million earlier this decade to renovate the Cathedral of St. Paul, but donations to cover the cost have dwindled during the economic meltdown. Roughly $13 million remains on the debt, while another $14 million is needed to repair damage from pre-restoration leaks from the dome.

The landmark cathedral that watches over downtown St. Paul is a century old; it serves not only as the primary worship center for 2,500 families and a "mother church" for about 700,000 members of the archdiocese but is also the city's namesake. Its doors are open seven days a week.

"It's truly an artistic treasure, and I think our nation is not used to caring for buildings like that," said Father Joseph Johnson, the cathedral's rector. "We spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a sports stadium and 30 years from now won't think [twice about] tearing it down and building a new one, but caring for old and irreplaceable treasures like this takes a different mindset."

If even possible, Johnson said building a new cathedral would cost upwards of $1 billion.

Churches throughout the archdiocese will hold special collections during masses this weekend.

"With a building of that magnitude and age, it has constant problems, and the cost is enormous," said archdiocese spokesman Dennis McGrath. "It's pretty staggering."

The special collection "is obviously not intended to raise the entire cost" of the shortfall, he said.

Carolyn Will, director of media relations for the Cathedral Heritage foundation, cited a letter in the archdiocese newsletter, the Catholic Sprit by Archbishop John Nienstedt that said if every one of the approximately 700,000 members of the archdiocese donated an extra $25, the remainder of the current debt from prior repairs would be paid off.

The Beaux Arts cathedral, in use since 1915, was designated in June as a national shrine of the Apostle Paul, the only one of its kind in the Untied States. It's on the National Register of Historic Places and is regularly open for tours and concerts, its caretakers asking only a goodwill donation, if possible, in return.

Seven years ago, the archdiocese completed an emergency renovation of the copper dome and roof. After the interior restoration, church leaders hope to restore the cathedral's two historic pipe organs for about $2.5 million.

The weekend's efforts will be a prelude of a wider fundraising push targeted beyond Catholics in the Twin Cities.

"The cathedral is a unique church, a landmark for the whole community," McGrath said. "We're hoping more and more people realize that."

Coincidentally, the cathedral parish festival will be held Sunday after an 11-year hiatus. It will be from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the corner of Summit and Selby avenues. Star Tribune

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