Skip to comments.Hiatus worries (Albany RC) parish leaders (restoration Cathedral Immaculate Conception)
Posted on 02/08/2007 6:00:07 AM PST by NYer
ALBANY -- A renovation plan that could close the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for two years or more has church leaders concerned about the survival of their parish.
The parish's chief advisory council vented its frustration in a recent letter to the Albany Catholic Diocese. Church leaders, who saw copies of the plan at a recent meeting, assailed both specific ideas in the renovation proposal and the general way the plan was communicated.
"We certainly couldn't have felt more disenfranchised," they said in the Jan. 16 letter, distributed in church bulletins as recently as last week.
The Rev. William Pape, rector of the cathedral, joined 13 members of the Pastoral Advisory Council in signing the document but later disavowed its claim that the diocese blindsided the parish with its interior redesign plans.
The tension is the latest development in a lengthy and expensive restoration of America's first neo-Gothic cathedral. Although parishioners who worship there weekly hold the largest stake in its resolution, many outside the parish boundaries have an interest in the future of the Albany landmark.
Catholics around the 14-county diocese contributed to restoring their "mother church" through a capital campaign. And, if the most recent grant request gains approval, the state will have propped up the project with more than $2 million.
The diocese is trying to rejuvenate a 155-year-old church it says was decimated by neighboring Empire State Plaza. Construction of the 1960s/'70s-era state office complex helped diminish the parish from more than 3,000 households to 300, Pape said.
Today, the diocese's flagship church serves about 650 households. That includes people from the surrounding neighborhoods, a young Filipino community and state workers who attend weekday Masses.
More than half the cathedral's worshipers live outside the parish borders, however. They commute there from 50-plus ZIP codes. Some do it because of family ties, some because they enjoy the atmosphere and some because they feel this urban church needs their support more than any suburban one.
Church leaders fear these people could abandon the cathedral for other parishes if the renovation requires a lengthy closure.
Joe Shea is convinced that will happen. In a cathedral that holds nearly 1,300 people, Shea was one of only about 80 worshipers scattered around the black walnut pews at Sunday's 9 a.m. Mass.
"I think it will be the end of the parish," said the 77-year-old Albany man, a parishioner since 1968. "This thing will turn into sort of a museum piece."
Step into the quiet, incense-tinged sanctuary from the noisy bustle of Empire State Plaza, and what you see already rivals a museum. The high pulpit is made of quartered oak carved in Holland. The vaulted ceilings have plaster medallions. The walls are mounted with terra-cotta carvings depicting each phase of the Crucifixion.
In other important ways, though, the cathedral is ailing.
The first phase of an exterior restoration, which started in 2000 and ended up costing $12 million, focused on the roof, upper walls and north tower. The south tower remains sheathed in bracelike black nylon netting to hold in deteriorating stone.
Inside, the wood floor is rotting, the plaster is falling apart in places and the heating system needs an upgrade. Addressing all of that is part of a renovation plan that Pape said is scheduled to start in September.
"It's gotta be done," said David Miesowicz, 50, a retired firefighter who lives in Coeymans. "I've been here when plaster has fallen in the seats."
The construction will likely take at least two years, Pape explained last week over coffee in his rectory office across the street from the cathedral. Asked if worshipers won't be able to use the cathedral during that time, Pape said: "To the best of my understanding."
"It has been communicated to us that we will have to temporarily relocate," Pape said, possibly to a nearby gymnasium. "...I don't know if we're going to be able to at some point come back in there, or if we're going to have to wait until it's all finished."
Parish leaders are urging the diocese to keep the cathedral open during its renovation. A leading Albany architect not involved with the project said that in general taking such an approach is possible.
Possible -- but expensive.
John Waite worked on the Baltimore Cathedral's restoration, called the most extensive yet of a historic American religious building.
That project involved closing the cathedral for roughly one year and relocating worship to a nearby church. In the end the restoration strengthened the congregation, he said.
"The best thing from an economical standpoint is just to turn the building over to the contractor and not have the public come through," Waite said. "And that's not always possible."
Diocesan spokesman Ken Goldfarb wouldn't discuss the plans "until the diocese has a chance to continue its dialogue with the parish community directly."
Whatever decisions are made, he said, will be based on "the understanding that the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception serves this community as well as the diocese as a whole."
Most of the Pastoral Advisory Council signed the letter detailing five main concerns to the diocese, which also included opposition to moving the baptismal font and removing many pews. But some within the parish disagree with its leadership.
Choir member Amanda Venezia said the closing is necessary and parishioners need to accept it.
"I don't agree with anything in this letter," the 26-year-old Albany history teacher said. "It makes me really sad to know that's what our leadership is saying."
The Albany cathedral shows signs of ongoing work. (Paul Buckowski / Times Union)
Not quite true. Many state workers prefer to attend Mass at
Historic St. Mary's
St. Mary's has been hallowed in many ways since St. Isaac Jogues prayerfully knelt on its soil as a prisoner of the Iroquois. The history of St. Mary's is of equal age with the first missionary work in the country and dates from the period in the 17th century when Albany was the eastern gate to the land of the Iroquois through which the martyrs of Auriesville passed to the scenes of their triumph and their death. Dr. Matthew O'Brien, O.P., who baptized St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, was once the pastor of St. Mary's. St. John Neumann offered Mass more than once on the altar of St. Mary's. Fr. Theobald Mathew, the renowned temperance leader from Ireland, preached and offered a novena here. The leader of the Oxford Movement in America, Fr. Clarence Walworth, was pastor here for many years. Fr. Walworth petitioned the American Bishops gathered at the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore and there introduced the cause of the Lily of the Mohawks, Blessed Kateri Tekawitha.
Take the tour of this beautiful old church - pews, confessionals, altar rail, stations, statues .. still intact.
Was this the one that "officials" were going to wreckovate into a non-descript place of worship?
This is his legacy. Perhaps a more fitting tribute would be a statue ;-)
He began that process many years ago by removing confessionals and some other 'traditional' elements. It's quite austere and 'cold' inside. The plans to finish the job by closing the Cathedral for 2 years will certainly drive congregants away. When no one returns, he will probably 'bite the hand that fed him' + $1,000,000 in grant money, blaming the NYS Empire State Plaza for stripping away the Cathedral's neighborhood. Guess we'll just have to watch and wait.
Wow! What a gorgeous church. It would be a shame to let it go.
its sad that the cathedral is so under attended. is there more to this than the rennovations?
it's certainly impressive architecturally...