Sitting in his office in the lower hall of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross this week, Father Kevin O’Leary is a flurry of activity – opening mail, taking calls from Cardinal Sean O’Malley, confirming Holy Week arrangements and – on top of all that – managing a $25 million restoration project at the seat of the Archdiocese of Boston, the Cathedral in the South End.
This year, for Holy Week and Easter, Masses, services and celebrations will be held in the lower level of the 1850s-era church – and though Father O’Leary said it would be tight quarters, such as it was during Christmas services – he said there is light at the end of the tunnel.
That light is the renovation and restoration project that is fully involved in the construction process right now, and is scheduled to be unveiled for Holy Week and Easter next year, in 2019.
“We’re really approaching this as a restoration project,” said Father O’Leary on Monday. “It is a renovation, but we’re trying to save everything possible and restore it to its original state…It’s a $25 million project, and at this point we have $15 million raised.”
Not only will the project restore the inside of the church, but also it will shore up the subfloor and install all new systems – such as a brand new heating system, and for the first time ever, an air conditioning system.
“There is a lot of the work that will be visible aesthetically, but much of it will be the invisible work no one can see, but is critical to the church building,” he said. “We had so many heating problems here. Having the new systems will be huge. There will also be the a/c, which we have never had. It can get pretty sweltering in the Cathedral in the summer. That won’t be a concern any longer.”
Right now, the Cathedral is completely gutted on the inside, with the work having begun after Easter last year – in mid-May.
The pews are gone, and the floor has disappeared and workers are solidifying the base of the floor – also known as the subfloor. Eventually, they will install a brand new marble floor over the repaired base, getting rid of the carpet that was in there for so long – a move that is expected to radically change the acoustics in the Cathedral for the better.
This week, workers were building a scaffolding in the main sanctuary to get to the top ceiling panels, which are made of wood, and will hopefully be restored. As the story goes, the wooden ceiling is outfitted with beautiful, wooden inlays that were painted over with an olive green by Cardinal Cushing many decades ago. The hope is that workers will be able to carefully restore those ceiling panels and expose the original wooden inlays.
“We’re hoping that will be able to happen, but they won’t know until they get up there and take a closer look,” O’Leary said.
Another major part of the renovation will be completely changing the altar structure. Everything will become marble, and the step-up will be lowered from what it was. All of that is designed to match the existing 1800s-era altar piece in the back, which is also marble.
While the space is being renovated, the historic organ is also being cleaned and restored as well.
One unique touch is that the interior will be lit at night so the restored stained glass windows are illuminated from the outside at all times.
Last year, major work was done on the exterior of the church, with the stone work being cleaned for the first time in decades – revealing the unique browns and tans that were part of the expert masonry design of the Cathedral. In addition, the original doors were restored to their original look. Father O’Leary said they were able to locate the building notes that specified the type of stain that was used on the doors in the original project.
All in all, it is a major project for the entire Archdiocese, as well as for the South End parishioners.
“It is the seat of the Archdiocese and the entire region,” he said. “This is an important church and this will make certain that the church is preserved for the next generation in the way that it was built by immigrants so many years ago.”