Architects brief clergy and members of the diocese on renovations to St. Joseph’s Cathedral
Renovations and improvements to St. Joseph’s Cathedral were long overdue.
The mother church of the Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City has stood along West Main Street since opening its doors in 1968.
Over the next 54 years, little changed at the church except that it grew older.
Several longtime supporters of the Diocese of Jefferson City who took part in a tour of the building Friday afternoon said the changes were welcome.
As around 60 people – mostly clergy, deacons, members of the diocese and members of the media – gathered at the center of the Undercroft, architect Abigail Steck told them about some of the improvements being made in the kitchen and bathrooms. Steck described how the wall finishes have changed. And she described some of the challenges workers and architects faced, such as supporting the pipe organ and altar, which are upstairs above the Undercroft.
Chris Hentges, owner and president of Sircal Contracting, Inc., which is the contractor for the $15 million renovation, said the masonry around the inside of the Undercroft’s exterior walls is complete. He said that although it took some time to receive the hemlock, which will be used for the Undercroft ceiling, the hardware is in place and is being installed. Hemlock is a light wood. The products came from Canada, Hentges said.
“We are all fighting — what COVID has done to us — to get products here,” Hentges said. “At the moment things are where we expected them to be – finishing the lower area earlier than upstairs. That’s about on schedule.”
The Undercroft is expected to be completed by mid-November. Bishop W. Shawn McKnight said he was eager to have this space available.
Much of the white oak trim around the Undercroft’s interior is in place. Like other materials, the price of white oak has increased during the pandemic.
“Among hardwood trim, white oak isn’t much different than walnut would be. It’s not out of this world,” Hentges said. “An important factor these days is work. There have been struggles, but the contractors have managed to pull it off.”
Father Frederick Elskamp said he was pastor at the cathedral years ago.
“I enjoyed it very much,” Elskamp said. “It’s a wonderful parish, and I’ve always loved the cathedral as a building.”
It will be much better now, he said. The cathedral will include a lot of church history, he continued.
“I think it’s going to inspire people now, because of the artwork that will be here,” he said. “It will be a tourist attraction. I think it will be very, very impressive.”
He said the cathedral should be, and is, a destination for Catholics in the diocese. Most members of a diocese rarely visit their cathedral. When it’s finished, Elskamp said, the cathedral could use docents, who could lead tours of the building when it’s not in use.
The changes solve many mechanical and accessibility issues in the building, while improving its hospitality and spirituality, according to a press release from the diocese. The changes include the installation of artwork and liturgical elements to more fully reflect the beauty of the Catholic faith, the statement said. They also highlight the culture and history of the diocese.
The renovations are funded by donations from lay people, deacons and priests specifically for the project. The Cathedral Parish has pledged to fund improvements to the Undercroft.
The cathedral belongs to the 75,000 Catholics who live in the diocese’s 38 counties, the statement said.
Deacon Jim Kliethermes said he retired as a deacon in 2020. The stained glass, statuary, mosaics and finishes of the cathedral will create wonderful changes, Kliethermes said.
“The improvements will be remarkable. I like the idea of making it look like the old Catholic churches I grew up with as a kid,” he continued. “Westphalia, Rich Fountain, Freeburg – all of these churches were all ornate and really had the visual impact of showcasing our Christ.”