Plans announced for cathedral interior renewal and restoration

Photo Caption: The project is the next phase of a master plan that followed an evaluation of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria as it approached its 125th anniversary in 2013.

By: By Tom Dermody

The mother church of the Diocese of Peoria is about to become even more beautiful, and you are invited to play a role.

Plans for a complete renewal and restoration of the interior of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria were announced last week. Project details were first shared with priests of the diocese following the Chrism Mass with Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, on March 31, and then a brochure describing the restoration was given to all Catholics attending Easter Masses at the cathedral last weekend.

Preparatory and design work has already begun, with the Chicago-based Daprato Rigali Studios selected to guide the project. The restoration is expected to be complete by the summer of 2016, with no expected interruptions of the cathedral’s liturgical life or ministries.

The interior work follows the completion last fall of exterior repairs of the cathedral’s roof, gutters, and exterior stone, as well as lightning protection.

All projects are part of a multi-phase master plan proposed when St. Mary’s Cathedral observed its 125th anniversary in 2013. As that anniversary approached, Bishop Jenky called for a study to evaluate the cathedral. The study cited several areas that needed immediate attention to halt “extreme water damage,” according to Msgr. Stanley Deptula, cathedral rector.

With those exterior repairs done, attention now turns to the interior of the Victorian, neo-Gothic edifice. And the necessity of repairing the plaster affords the right time for a broader restoration.

The plans outlined in the brochure, titled “Inspired by Our Past, Moving Forward,” call for:

— a new paint scheme throughout the cathedral
— restoration of the historic stained glass windows with new protection glass
— new murals above the side altars, one depicting St. Juan Diego presenting the tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the Mexican bishop, and the other picturing the death of St. Joseph
— new pew seats and backs, with the carved pew ends stripped and restored
— a new marble baptismal font and tabernacle altar, and
— the restoration of original stencil design on the sanctuary walls.

Msgr. Deptula emphasized that most improvement costs are already covered.

“Bishop Jenky has known this has been coming for years,” he told The Catholic Post.

According to the brochure, “thanks to careful budgeting in the first phase of repair, prudent savings and investments, and other cost-savings in the diocesan budget, no capital campaign, diocesan tax or special collection is required to complete the restoration.”

However, there are several opportunities for memorial donations “as a great way to participate in the history of our diocese,” said Msgr. Deptula.

Donations are being accepted, for example, toward the restoration of the stained glass windows — installed in the 1930s under the guidance and direction of Archbishop Joseph H. Schlarman. The windows tell the story of salvation history up to the founding of the Diocese of Peoria.

“Those windows are treasures of our diocese,” said Msgr. Deptula. “After 80 years, it is time for their repair.” Nearly half will be removed, re-leaded, and straightened as they have bowed through the years. All will be cleaned and have new protection on the outside.

“I think they will shine with a brilliance we have not seen since the 1930s,” said Msgr. Deptula.

Plaques will acknowledge the generosity of major donors to the windows or other improvements, including the new tower for the Blessed Sacrament or the murals.

Msgr. Deptula invited parish groups, religious communities, families, and individuals to consider gifts large or small. Donations may be mailed to The Cathedral Restoration, 419 NE Madison Ave., Peoria IL 61603. Those wishing more information are invited to call Msgr. Deptula or Bill Engelbrecht, diocesan director of advancement, at (309) 671-1550.

The priests of the diocese were enthusiastic upon hearing of the plans, according to Msgr. Deptula, who has spent much time researching cathedral history, including past renovations.

“They have seen for so many years the deterioration of the cathedral,” he said. The improvements are planned “so that every part helps to tell the story of the faith of our diocese.”

That education and symbolism may begin at the very entrance. In addition to a restoration of the cathedral front doors, Msgr. Deptula said plans are being considered to redesign the vestibule to help pilgrims move “from the secular to the sacred.” Among those plans is the depiction on the ceiling of the night sky “as it would have appeared on Feb. 12, 1875, the day that Blessed Pius IX established the Diocese of Peoria,” he said.

Education materials will explain the changes to visitors, he said, and the restoration will provide “whole new reasons for people to come on pilgrimage to their cathedral.”

SPALDING PASTORAL CENTER | 419 NE MADISON AVENUE | PEORIA, IL 61603 | PHONE (309) 671-1550 | FAX (309) 671-1595
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