Pledges sought for ‘the mother church of the diocese’

By Tom Maguire | Associate editor

On Sept. 7, a worker in a green hard hat and red suspenders stood in a crane bucket 20 feet off the ground and sand-blasted the ancient stonework of the Cathedral Parish offices next to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse.

The white dust, bleached by the sunlight, billowed around the worker and moved slowly upward, as if reluctant to detach from a wall that was built 130 years ago. As Bishop Robert J. Cunningham has noted, that stonework had been cut, chiseled, lifted, and put into position without any modern machinery.

But now the aged rectory and cathedral are badly in need of many repairs, and so the bishop gave an update on the renovation project at Saturday’s meeting of the Diocesan Pastoral Council.

Modern construction workers certainly need the most rugged equipment available as they tackle the awalls of the diocesan property in downtown Syracuse. The walls are thick and the cathedral “doesn’t give up anything too easily,” the bishop told a crowd of about 150 people at Bishop Grimes Junior-Senior High School.

Over the past several weeks, Bishop Cunningham and Msgr. J. Robert Yeazel have been meeting with people and asking for their help in funding the project. “The restoration of the cathedral is critical to the future of our diocese,” the bishop said.

“I’m just tremendously encouraged by all the work that has been going on,” he said, “by all the assistance, by all the interest. You know, it reminds me of the many sacrifices that the clergy and laity have made throughout the course of our history as a diocese to build up and strengthen the church, to build up the faith in the minds and hearts of our people.”

The bishop said he was very happy to announce that the diocese has reached about the $9 million mark for individual gifts to the cathedral. But the work will cost probably $10 million to $12 million, he said.

The money will go toward a rather long list of repairs.

“The architect tells us the roof is about 125 years old,” Bishop Cunningham said. “And a slate roof is scheduled to last for 100 years.”

That roof is leaking badly, and those leaks are eroding the internal plaster and woodwork. The under-floor heating system is failing, causing the floor to buckle and warp. The electrical system in some areas of the cathedral is over 60 years old. It has been about 30 years since the walls have been painted, and the diocese also hopes to work on the lighting.

The bishop also noted that there is “little accommodation for those who are differently abled. And as many of you who have been in the cathedral know, restroom facilities are woefully inadequate.”

In asking for financial assistance, Bishop Cunningham said, “It’s important to always remember the role that the cathedral plays. Every parishioner of whatever individual parish you belong is also a parishioner of the cathedral, the mother church of the diocese. … It’s where we’re able to stand as a counter-sign to some of the prevailing culture in our world. And at this place and in this moment, a cathedral 130 years old needs some help.”

“But you know I also do not want us to go into debt doing this,” Bishop Cunningham added. “I want us to be able to pay for it as we go along.”

“Bishop Cunningham and I are not asking you to do something we are not doing,” Msgr. Yeazel said. “We have pledged a year’s salary, each of us, a year’s salary over five years for this project.”

Also, he said, the diocese has asked the priests to consider a minimum gift of $2,500. The average priest gift so far is $4,700, the monsignor said. He added that pastors have asked their parishes if they would like to contribute to the cathedral restoration, and two parishes have contributed $100,000 each at this point.

“So, we’re not asking you to do something we don’t believe in as priests,” Msgr. Yeazel said. “We’re asking you to join us in what we ARE doing, because we are together. Really. Building and restoring a house for God.”

Every time somebody makes a pledge, the monsignor said, it’s a pledge over three to five years. “We’re using pledges as collateral for the loans we need … to do the actual project itself,” he said.

A DVD explaining the cathedral restoration will be sent to all parishes this month, said Christopher (Kit) Parker, director of the diocesan Stewardship and Development Office. The packet will include pledge forms, a capital campaign guide, posters, and brochures. An Oct. 24 mailing to all parishioners will include pledge forms, and Nov. 12 and 13 will be commitment Sunday as part of that process, Parker said.

In addition to the DVD, parishes can request a thumb drive if they would prefer, or a website where they can download the video itself, he said.

* The Diocesan Pastoral Council members also heard a report on a new unified process for parish renewal called “Making Missionary Disciples.”

The term “Missionary Disciple” is taken from a quote by Pope Francis: “Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are ‘disciples’ and ‘missionaries,’ but rather that we are always ‘missionary disciples’” (The Joy of the Gospel 120).

Bishop Cunningham, in his 2013 Pastoral Letter, said the idea behind the program is “meeting the needs of today’s families.”

Three diocesan offices – of Faith Formation, Youth/Young Adult Ministry, and Evangelization – are working together to engage families and counter the influences of a secularized world. Mary Hallman, of the Evangelization Office, said the Making Missionary Disciples program will help the diocese address three of Bishop Cunningham’s goals: to help people discern vocation, to encourage people in greater Mass attendance, and to have Catholic Christians that are better educated in their faith.

These parishes have signed up for the pilot program: St. Stephen, Phoenix; St. Mary of the Assumption, Baldwinsville; Sacred Heart, Cicero; St. Theresa, New Berlin; Our Lady of Sorrows, Vestal; and St. Vincent de Paul/Blessed Sacrament, Vestal. One other parish has tentatively signed up for it.

For more information on the pilot program,  go to

   *   Father John Manno, Pastor of Holy Family Church in Syracuse, gave a Year of Mercy presentation on “Respect for the Dead and Dying.” He noted the merciful ministry he conducted with Emmaus Ministries at St. James Church in Syracuse. The ministry helps homeless people, including homeless people who have died. Sometimes, he said, there is no one to attend the funeral other than himself and the funeral director. In those cases, he held the funeral during the daily Mass so that others could attend: a “sad but great ministry.”
   “We pray for those who have died – so therefore we carry out a merciful function,” he said.

    * Mark Barlow, director of the Catholic Cemetery Office, gave a presentation. He said there are 61 cemeteries across the diocese; 45 are managed by individual parishes, and 16 are under his team’s management. His office offers cemetery options for parishes that do not have their own cemeteries, and the pricing is reasonable and competitive.

“They don’t know that we have world-class, state-of-the-art mausoleums that offer options to our parishioners, he said. He also offers beautiful chapels so that people can visit to remember their loved ones all year long. Non-Catholics are welcome to be memorialized alongside their non-Catholic relatives, he said. And people often don’t understand the importance of pre-planning, Barlow said.

He encouraged the attendees to take a new brochure back to their parishes, and he offered to speak to any parishes that are interested. “Our cemeteries are beautiful, reverent places,” he said.

    * Le Moyne College junior Nick Calaprico gave a talk on his experiences at World Youth Day this summer in Krakow, Poland. He recalled his awe at seeing the flags from around the world all waving in the air, and the wonder and awe that he felt at the opening Mass, when the sky was all cloudy except for where the sun shone down on the altar.

    * Bishop Cunningham fielded questions from the audience. In response to a question about vocations, he said:

“Let’s face it: The majority of our priests are over 60 years of age. And we’ve got to plan for the future. We’re doing everything we can to encourage vocations. But let me tell you, parents have to encourage vocations too. And parents have to create homes in which a vocation can be nurtured and recognized and supported.

“There’s a number of young people who have told me they’d like to think about the priesthood, but their parents want grandchildren. I mean, that’s an issue, OK? But God places in the minds and hearts of our young people the seed of a vocation. And we have to help them – bring them along – to see that. So we will continue to do all that we can to support it.

“But it’s not something that I can do alone, or Father [Joseph M.] O’Connor [Diocesan Vocation Director] can do alone, your parish priest can do alone. It’s something that we have to do together. And we have to really work at creating an atmosphere in which the vocation can be recognized.”

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