Project to restore the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception underway
By Katherine Long
From its dedication as the cathedral of the diocese in 1904 to its liturgical celebrations uniting the faithful today, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception has stood as the spiritual and physical heart of the Diocese of Syracuse for more than 100 years.
But decades of use and Upstate weather have taken their toll on the church. The original slate roof is leaking and the tile floor buckling. The utility systems are outdated and inefficient. Gathering space and facilities are inadequate to accommodate those who attend the many diocesan-wide liturgies celebrated every year.
To ensure the Cathedral can serve its faithful for another 100 years, the diocese has begun comprehensive work to restore and renew the structure. The two-phase project will cost an estimated $11 million and will be completed in December of 2017.
The restoration comes more than a year after Bishop Robert J. Cunningham convened a group of building and trades experts, laity, and clergy to assess the Cathedral’s issues and offer their advice on what needed to be done, he told the Sun.
“What we’re doing now is what’s necessary to preserve the building for the next generation,” he said.
The Cathedral is a very special place in the life of the diocese, he noted, the mother church and the place from which the bishop teaches and preaches. While individuals may have their own parish, “everyone belongs to the Cathedral, and the Cathedral belongs to everyone,” he said.
The project’s first phase, currently underway, will create a gathering area in what was previously the Cathedral’s daily Mass chapel and a parish center in the adjoining rectory space. There, the first floor will house meeting rooms, classrooms, and a kitchen. The second floor will house offices. The third floor will house three priest residences. Expanded restroom facilities will be constructed. Electrical, plumbing, and heating and cooling systems will be replaced; floors, walls, and ceilings will be repaired; new windows will be installed; and elevator access will be installed.
Repairs and restoration work in the Cathedral will begin after Easter of 2017 and will include replacing the roof; replacing the electrical and heating and cooling systems; installing new flooring; repairing windows; restoring the main and side altars and returning the Blessed Sacrament to the original high altar; and restoring the entrance, ceiling, walls, and masonry. Access to and in the Cathedral for those who are disabled will be improved. New lighting and audio systems will be installed.
“The Cathedral is a significant historical building in any diocese, and it’s certainly a significant historical building in the City of Syracuse in Columbus Circle,” said Msgr. Neal Quartier, rector of the Cathedral. “So to not keep it up we do a disservice to our own secular community as well as certainly our religious community. It’s something that we as Catholics should be proud of. It’s a beautiful building. The stained glass windows are magnificent. You can’t build a building like this any longer, and so the ones that we have we really should keep in the best shape that we can for the future generations.”
Fundraising efforts for the restoration began about six months ago, and to date the Cathedral Restoration Fund has received $9.3 million in pledges, commitments, and promises, according to Msgr. J. Robert Yeazel, chair of the fundraising campaign, and Christopher Parker, diocesan Director of Stewardship and Development. These generous gifts have come from leadership donors, Cathedral parishioners, members of the clergy, and parishes, Msgr. Yeazel told the Sun in an email interview. In the coming weeks, parishioners throughout the diocese will receive information about the restoration and be invited to contribute during the “in-pew” solicitation at their parishes the weekend of November 12 and 13.
Three endowment funds will be established for the Cathedral, Msgr. Yeazel explained: a capital fund to provide for long- and short-term maintenance, a social outreach fund, and a sacred arts and music programming fund. The total goal of these funds is $7 million.
“The Cathedral is the mother church of the diocese,” Msgr. Yeazel said. “It is the place where all of the major diocesan ceremonies take place, from ordinations to commissioning of lay ministers to Holy Week ceremonies of blessing of sacred oils to be distributed to all parishes, to reception of new converts to the faith, etc. It is the one church that belongs to all in the diocese. The example I use is, ‘I have been stationed in many parts of the diocese, but my mother was always in Syracuse. I always took care of my mother. We should all do the same whether 100 miles away or 5,000 — it is our mother and you take care of your mother.’”
For parishioner Les Smith, supporting the Cathedral is deeply personal. Smith became a Catholic in 2011, something “I don’t know if I would have done if it hadn’t been for the Cathedral and how I felt at home there,” he said. The church’s history is key for him as well: “Generations of Catholics kept the building alive and well for future generations; that for me is extremely important.”
A member of the Cathedral parish’s restoration fundraising team, Smith said that he was amazed at the support shown by the parish community — the parish has raised $1.2 million in pledges, far exceeding its goal of $650,000, according to Parker — and that it reminded him of what he read about people coming together to support the Cathedral’s 1958 restoration campaign: When “you make this kind of sacrifice, it’ll be generations beyond you that are really going to receive the gift of it. You’ll enjoy it for a moment, but for the most part, it’s going to be generations after you that will really get the benefit of it. These people really came through and they made the sacrifice, just the way our Cathedral parishioners did, but I’m sure parishioners from all over the diocese will,” Smith said.
“This level of generosity and sacrifice makes what happened then, as well as today, even more significant and meaningful,” Smith added.
To learn more about the Cathedral restoration project, visit cathedralrestorationsyracuse.org.