‘We are all its guardians’

Following restoration, Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is readied for rededication Sept. 8

By Katherine Long | Editor

More than a century ago, faithful Catholics sacrificed together to build the church that would become the heart of the Diocese of Syracuse. Today, that church, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, has been restored and renewed through the generosity of today’s faithful, ensuring it will remain the heart of the diocese for another century to come.

Time takes a toll

The cornerstone of St. Mary’s Church was laid in 1874; in 1904, the church was formally designated the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Over the years, renovations updated the structure to meet the needs of the faith community. In 1958, in-floor heating was installed and the interior walls were painted. In the 1980s, the tabernacle and the baptismal font were relocated, among other updates.

By 2015, years of use and Upstate weather had taken a toll on the structure, leading to a leaky roof, cracking floors, outdated utilities, and inadequate facilities. The diocese convened a committee to create a plan to restore the Mother Church of the diocese. The committee was chaired by Jim Tuozzolo, chairman of the Facility Planning Committee of the diocese, and included members of COR Development Company, Hueber-Breuer Construction, Pyramid Brokerage Company, the Cathedral parish, and the diocesan Finance Council, according to John Barsanti, diocesan Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer.

Restoring the Mother Church

The first phase of the restoration began in February 2016. A gathering area, able to accommodate more than 250 people, was created in the former daily Mass chapel space. New and expanded restrooms were created. In the adjoining parish center, classrooms, meeting rooms, and office space were outfitted with needed technology. Three priest residences and one guest room on the top floor were renovated. A new elevator provides access to the building for all. Utilities were replaced and structural repairs were made throughout.

The second phase of the restoration, addressing the Cathedral itself, began in January 2017; the main church was closed after Easter to allow for interior work. The roof; flooring; and electrical, heating and cooling, lighting, and audio systems were replaced. The main and side altars were restored and the tabernacle returned to the original high altar. The walls, ceiling, and masonry were also repaired and restored — resulting in perhaps the most striking aspect of the restoration.

Walls that had been a neutral beige now bear rich shades of green, red, and gold. The dramatic arched ceiling of the sanctuary, previously a soft blue, is now a vibrant cobalt.

The beige tones were not original to the English Victorian Gothic-style Cathedral, explained Troy Joseph Simmons, whose firm, McPherson, Simmons Bros. & Sons Architectural Design Studios of New Jersey, provided liturgical design direction for portions of the Cathedral’s restoration. Rather, the beige was introduced during a 1950s restoration as a means of modernizing and subduing the original decorative pattern, Simmons said.