Diocese celebrates fruition of Cathedral renovations

Bishops Robert J. Baker, David B. Thompson and Robert E. Guglielmone talk on the steps of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist after the rededication celebration May 1. (Miscellany/Doug Deas)

Bishops Robert J. Baker, David B. Thompson and Robert E. Guglielmone talk on the steps of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist after the rededication celebration May 1. (Miscellany/Doug Deas)By Bill Perry, Special to The Catholic Miscellany

CHARLESTON—The historic completion of a decade-long renovation of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist was heralded with representation of past and present May 1.

Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone celebrated Mass with Bishops Robert J. Baker and David B. Thompson, Msgr. Joseph R. Roth, and Father Gregory B. Wilson for a crowd of faithful Catholics.

In his homily, Bishop Guglielmone reminded worshipers that the newly restored Cathedral is an important symbol.

“As this spire reaches up more and more, so we are called to reach for our goal of being closer to God, of reaching for the heavenly Jerusalem,” he said.

He also challenged the over 500 attendees to use the renovated church as a source of spiritual nourishment and inspiration.

“We have a job to do, and that is to go forth from this Cathedral and to preach and teach what we believe,” the bishop said.

The $6.2 million restoration included repair of the stained-glass windows, exterior brownstone, and the addition of a steeple and three bells to better proclaim the presence of God in the community.

Following Mass, a picnic was held under a huge tent on the Cathedral lawn. In his remarks, Bishop Guglielmone paid tribute to those responsible for the project.

“I am happy to accept congratulations for what other people did, and I didn’t even have to raise any money for it,” he said jokingly.

The bishop presented framed portraits of the Cathedral to his predecessors, and recognized the architects, builders, and parish and diocesan volunteers who made the project a reality.

John Caputo, fundraising committee chair, praised the efforts of the team from Hightower Contruction, Glenn Keyes Architects, and others involved in the work.

“They were not only professionals, but they all took a very personal interest in the success of the project,” he said.

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Charleston, SC (Miscellany/Doug Deas)Architect Rueben Solar spoke emotionally of what the day meant to him.

“I proposed to my wife on the roof of the old steeple, and it is very humbling to be an architect in this city, for my church, and to help design a steeple at this moment in time,” he said.

Bishop Baker, before being assigned to the Diocese of Birmingham, Ala., led the diocesan fundraising appeal Our Heritage, Our Hope that paid for one half of the project.

He spoke of his vision: “From under one new spire would flow the various ministries of service to our parish and our wider community.”

He paid tribute to Bishop Henry P. Northrop, fourth Bishop of Charleston, who laid the cornerstone of the current Cathedral in 1890 after the original structure burned to the ground in 1861, only 10 years after it opened. 

Bishop Baker also congratulated Msgr. Roth, who was rector of the Cathedral during a major part of the renovation project. The monsignor sang his traditional Irish blessing, and the attendees gave him a standing ovation.

Bishop emeritus Thompson oversaw extensive renovations of the Cathedral’s interior in the 1990s. He told the crowd that the first five letters in the current bishop’s name, G-u-g-l-i plus an a, or guglia, means spire or steeple in Italian.

“For those of you who cannot pronounce his name, he is Bishop Steeple,” Bishop Thompson quipped.

The day was also about Cathedral parishioners and Catholics from the state who came to celebrate.

Gertrude duFort, a 97-year-old longtime parishioner, reminisced that her late husband Leo was at the last rededication in 1907 as a child.

“I never thought I would live to see this beautiful steeple rising high over the city of Charleston,” she said.

Father Wilson, current rector pro tempore, was presented with a print and congratulated by Bishop Guglielmone for his role in overseeing completion of the project. 

“I don’t think Bishop Northrop and all those who worked so hard before us on building this Cathedral would have ever thought that it would take Yankees to finish the work,” Father Wilson said, concluding the lighthearted celebration.

Copies of the picture above are available for sale. Contact the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist: www.charlestoncatholiccathedral.org