Cathedral fundraising effort cuts debt in half

| July 6, 2011 | 0 Comments
Cathedral of St. Paul

Photo by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

A $12.5 million debt left over from the Cathedral of St. Paul’s exterior restorations a decade ago has been cut in half, according to archdiocesan officials.

In 2000, the cathedral’s copper roof was replaced and its granite exterior restored at a cost of $35 million.

Over the years, capital campaigns and several archdiocesan collections have helped repay much of that cost, but until last year a significant debt remained.

“Once the scaffolding came down and the crane went away and the roof was fixed, I think people thought: ‘Well, that’s it. We’ve done our duty,’” Archbishop John Nienstedt said. “In point of fact, it wasn’t that way, and I think some people are surprised to find that there was still indebtedness on it.”

On the occasion of Archbishop Harry Flynn’s 50th anniversary as a priest last year, the archdiocese asked benefactors to consider making a financial gift in the archbishop emeritus’s honor to reduce the Cathedral’s debt.

“Everyone who knows Archbishop Flynn knows that the cathedral restoration was so dear to his heart,” said Father Joseph Johnson, Cathedral rector.

“The thought was posed: Why not honor him by trying to help finish what he considered his unfinished project,” he said. “So major benefactors around the Twin Cities were approached and gave very generously. That’s how we saw the debt this year cut in half.”

More than $6 million was raised through the effort led by Archbishop Nienstedt as well as Karen Rauenhorst and Jim Frey, co-chairs of the event that honored Archbishop Flynn and sought to pay down the Cathedral debt.

A nonprofit organization called the Cathedral Heritage Foundation was established four years ago to guide the restoration efforts and also assist with fundraising.

“The Cathedral Heritage Foundation . . . has reached out and made progress in attracting support from non-Catholic benefactors as well as from local corporations,” Father Johnson said.

Preserving a treasure

When Father Johnson became rector five years ago, the Cathedral’s monthly debt payment was about $120,000, he said. Now it’s $30,000.

“This great domed church sitting high on the hill dominating the skyline is a reminder to everyone of the presence of our loving God and his invitation to become disciples of the Lord Jesus,” Father Johnson said.

“It was clearly built by all the people of the archdiocese, and it clearly can only be restored and maintained by all the people of the archdiocese as well,” he added.

Water seeping through the roof also damaged the Cathedral’s interior, which will require additional restoration work in coming years, Father Johnson said.

“It’s all of the beautiful ornamental plaster work that is crumbling due to the moisture within it, but it’s also the stonework . . . that has been compromised,” he said.

“We’re hoping that the things that we’re doing each year to care for the Cathedral will prolong the period before we need to tackle urgently the interior restoration,” Father Johnson said.

But it’s a matter of years rather than decades, he added.

September collection

Parishes in the archdiocese will take up a special collection at Masses Sept. 24-25 to help further pay down the Cathedral’s debt.

“I’m very grateful to those who have contributed already,” Archbishop Nienstedt said. “And I would encourage people to contribute to the upcoming collection because, after all, the Cathedral belongs to all of us.

“That was one of Archbishop [John] Ireland’s themes, that everyone should feel at home in the Cathedral,” he added.

“That’s my hope as well.”

To help support the Cathedral restoration, individuals may also call the Cathedral Heritage Foundation at (651) 228-1766 or visit http://www.cathedralheritagefoundation.org/donate.

Editor Joe Towalski contributed to this story.

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