By Katherine Long, Editor
On a Sunday in 1904, St. Mary’s Church in Syracuse was dedicated as the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the Mother Church of the Diocese of Syracuse. More than a century later, on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the newly restored Mother Church was rededicated in a jubilant Mass of Thanksgiving.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, was the principal celebrant of the Sept. 8 Mass, offered with hundreds gathered inside the Cathedral’s now jewel-toned walls.
The rededication followed an extensive restoration of the Cathedral that addressed critical structural repairs and necessary renewal. Begun in February 2016, the two-phase, $11.5 million project included replacing the church’s roof, flooring, electrical, heating and cooling, lighting, and audio; repairing its walls, ceiling, and masonry; expanding the restroom facilities; creating a gathering space; adding accessibility for all; and outfitting the adjoining parish center with needed technology. Generous donations from more than 8,300 supporters across the diocese made the restoration possible.
Joining Cardinal Dolan and Syracuse Bishop Robert J. Cunningham at the Mass were principal concelebrants Bishop Salvatore R. Matano of the Diocese of Rochester; Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Grosz of the Diocese of Buffalo; Auxiliary Bishop Witold Mroziewski of the Diocese of Brooklyn; Bishop Emeritus James C. Timlin of the Diocese of Scranton; Msgr. Timothy S. Elmer, Vicar General and Judicial Vicar of the Diocese of Syracuse; and Msgr. Neal E. Quartier, Cathedral Rector. Dozens of priests and deacons were also present, and the Cathedral’s refinished and refurbished pews were filled with women and men religious, donors, local dignitaries, and other special guests.
The sounds of the Cathedral’s spectacular Roosevelt organ, freshly cleaned and tuned for the rededication, filled the Cathedral with music. The diocesan choir and musicians Lee Turner and Craig Ellwood on trumpet, Audrey Turner on French horn, and Mark Anderson on trombone were led by Cathedral Organist and Choir Director Alan Lynch.
Before beginning the Liturgy of the Word, Cardinal Dolan blessed the Cathedral’s new cathedra (bishop’s chair), the walls of the Cathedral, and the new lectern.
The cathedra and its accompanying sanctuary furnishings are the products of a creative collaboration between Stickley Furniture in Manlius and McPherson, Simmons Bros. & Sons Architectural Design Studios of New Jersey. The cathedra was presented as a gift to the diocese from Stickley CEO Aminy Audi, President Edward Audi, and the Stickley family.
Cathedral parishioner Joanne Valachovic offered the first reading, Micah 5:1-4. Chancellor and Director of Communications Danielle Cummings offered the second reading, Romans 8:28-30. The Gospel reading, Matthew 1:18-23, was proclaimed by Deacon Matthew Rawson.
Cardinal Dolan offered the homily.
Recalling Pope Francis’ visit to New York City two years ago this month, Cardinal Dolan told of the Holy Father’s surprise at seeing St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the middle of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. In the rest of the world, a cathedral usually stands apart, the cardinal said.
“Then Pope Francis smiled and remarked, ‘Yes, it’s in the middle of everything — and that’s where it should be.’”
To the people of the diocese, to those who supported the restoration, and to those who worked on it, Cardinal Dolan offered a hearty congratulations and alleluia.
“What a tribute this restored cathedral is to your faith and hope, your love for Jesus and His Church. My brother bishops who are here present will join me in thanking you, the Diocese of Syracuse, for the booster shot of hope that you have given all of us in the Catholic Church in the United States in the renewal of this magnificent Mother Church of this diocese,” he said.
“Is it not providential, my brothers and sisters that we would rededicate this gem, named after her Immaculate Conception, on the feast of her birth?” he continued.
“Pope Francis, in remarking that a cathedral should be smack-dab in the middle of everything, reminds us that a cathedral represents ‘God is with us,’ Emmanuel, the last line of this evening’s Gospel,” Cardinal Dolan said. “God is with us in this spiritual home of the Catholic family of the Diocese of Syracuse.”
Longtime Cathedral parishioners Bob and Judy Daino presented the gifts. The couple was married at the Cathedral 50 years ago; they marked their golden anniversary on Aug. 12.
Before Mass ended, Bishop Cunningham offered words of thanks and gratitude to those present and to those who supported the restoration with their prayers and their gifts. “The stones, stained glass windows, marble, and wood, testify to the generosity of so many,” he said.
Bishop Cunningham pointed out two particularly meaningful aspects of the restoration. First, the altar of repose and the tabernacle, returned to its place on the original high altar. “’How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord God of hosts.’ Here in this place we find love and mercy. Here God takes us and transforms us into his people,” he said.
Second, the cathedra. “When I look at the chair, I am reminded of the people from 37 nationalities that work at Stickley, some refugees and migrants, skilled craftsmen and craftswomen who designed and built the chair. Two of them are with us today.
“At a time when many in our country are questioning our immigration policies, I assure you: We stand with the immigrant,” he declared, to loud applause from the congregation.
He concluded with words of unity and encouragement. “In the warm and tender embrace of our mother the Church, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, God’s holy people, the chosen flock of this local church, are nourished and strengthened. From here all of us, living stones transformed by grace, go forth to proclaim the Gospel with joy, especially attentive to those on the peripheries: the poor, the needy, the isolated, the neglected.
“May Mary wrap her protective mantle around each of you and keep you in her tender care as we continue the joy of life and faith.”
Bishop Cunningham will celebrate a reopening Mass at the Cathedral, open to all Cathedral parishioners and the public, this Sunday, Sept. 10 at 9:45 a.m. Masses at the Cathedral are celebrated weekdays at 12:10 p.m., Saturdays at 5:10 p.m.; and Sundays at 7:30 a.m., 9:45 a.m., and 5:10 p.m. For more information on the parish, visit cathedralsyracuse.org.
To see more photos from the Mass, visit facebook.com/SyrCatholicSun.