JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri — A major renovation of the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Jefferson City is under way, with hopes for completion and a rededication Mass about a year from now.
Parishioners are worshipping temporarily in nearby locations while Sircal Contracting Inc. and a group of gifted artisans go about highlighting the building’s striking architecture with timeless art.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City has likened parishioners’ time away from the cathedral to a shared journey and to “time in the desert.”
He assured them the completed work will be well worth the wait. Catholics throughout the diocese are invited to participate in a spiritual pilgrimage during the renovation by praying for all involved in the work.
Besides taking care of some needed repairs, the renovation will “increase our hospitality to visitors and guests” and “manifest more clearly the beauty of our Catholic faith in the various pieces of artwork that are being fashioned by artists near and far away,” he stated at the end of his homily Jan. 2, the Solemnity of the Epiphany of Our Lord.
The renewed cathedral will include a substantially larger gathering area, known as a narthex, as well as an outdoor canopy and bell towers. Symbols of St. Joseph will adorn the front of the canopy.
As was originally intended when the cathedral was built, bells will be placed in both of the towers.
The narthex will include additional, larger rest rooms and an elevator to a renovated downstairs undercroft, site of numerous parish and diocesan gatherings.
Signature elements of the mid-century cathedral, including its circular design, geometric windows, Douglas fir beams, crown-shaped roof, terrazzo floor and white travertine marble, will be preserved.
A new altar, tabernacle, ambo, bishop’s chair and proximate baptistery will be created for the reconfigured sanctuary. New wood paneling and the cross for the new crucifix will be made from regional white oak.
New stained-glass windows will draw more sunlight into the cathedral. Each will depict scenes from the Old and New Testaments and saints of the church, united under the theme of Acts of the Apostles 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.”
New sculptures, mosaics, painting, stenciling and colorful stonework will help define other areas of prayer throughout the cathedral.
These spaces for prayer will include shrines devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, St. Isadore the Farmer and his wife, Blessed Maria, and Father Augustus Tolton, who was born and baptized in northeastern Missouri. The priest is a candidate for sainthood and has the title “Venerable.”
Antique polychromatic Stations of the Cross will be framed with brass and installed in the ambulatory. A new, custom-designed organ, incorporating parts of the current instrument, will be installed.
“It’s going to be a wonderful space,” said church architect William Heyer, architectural consultant for the project.
He noted that careful planning over the past year is yielding an even more thoughtful use of materials and artwork than conceived in the initial plans for the renovation.
“What’s really exciting is the amount of artwork that’s going to be installed in the cathedral, something I think people are going to be very surprised and happy about,” Heyer told The Catholic Missourian, newspaper of the Jefferson City Diocese.
“Certainly, the new stained glass will be a lot more colorful and brighter than any of us had foreseen,” he said. “The mosaics and marble work are going to be more colorful and intricate.”
Artisans from as far away as Germany and Italy and as near as St. Louis and Kansas City in Missouri and Chicago will create the artwork.
Heyer said the purpose of every detail will be to make Christ’s invisible presence more visible.
“This is what we specialize in,” he said, “the celebration in the best way possible of all the efforts that were put forth when this cathedral was built, while making it more beautiful and more recognizably Catholic.”
The Cathedral of St. Joseph was completed in 1968 in a style that has come to be known as mid-century modern.
The renovation will incorporate classical elements into the cathedral’s familiar structure, enhancing its beauty, functionality, capacity for hospitality and uniquely Catholic identity.
Father Louis Nelen, pastor of Cathedral of St. Joseph Parish, said the 52-year-old cathedral has served the people of the parish and the diocese well but is now in need of practical and aesthetic updating.
Electrical systems and other utilities are worn out and outdated, as are the lights and sound system. The restrooms need to be larger and more accessible.
The renovated interior will attract the faithful into deeper communion with God through beauty.
“It will be a blending of modern and traditional,” said Nelen. “We’re trying to maintain connections to the timeless tradition of the church while respecting and building upon what we have here.”
In preliminary surveys, many parishioners, especially young parents, said they want inspiring and instructive images surrounding them.
“It goes back to the days of when the faith was taught not just by the spoken word but also through symbols and art,” Nelen stated.
When people who pass by the cathedral and see it from the outside, beginning with the canopy over the front door, they “will recognize that this is a sacred space, a place of welcome, a truly Catholic place, and you will want to come in and visit,” the priest added.
McKnight hopes the cathedral will become a place of frequent pilgrimage for people throughout the diocese.
Heyer said his prayer for this project has always been “that God will bring this to a beautiful end, that the details will be right, that the building will be built strong, that it will last many generations to increase the faith of the people.”
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Nies is editor of The Catholic Missourian, newspaper of the Diocese of Jefferson City.