On April 11, for Palm Sunday Mass, the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston opened to the public for the first time after two years of renovation. The site is the seat of the cardinal archbishop of Boston and the largest cathedral in New England, and has undergone major upgrades, most notably to the flooring, pews, and sanctuary. With a budget of $26 million provided by private philanthropy, the renovation benefits not only the worship space for the “mother church” of Boston, but also its many ministries, which aid the homeless, hungry, and sick in the area.
150 years ago, responding to the need for a larger cathedral, renowned architect Patrick Keely designed the Gothic church to seat 2,000 people and house what was then the largest organ in North America. The cathedral had received few improvements until the major renovation began in 2017.
The construction was requested by the Archbishop of Boston, Seán Cardinal O’Malley, O.F.M. Cap. and was led by John Fish of Suffolk Construction and David Manfredi of Elkus Manfredi Architects. Renovations included the removal of pews and pew platforms, which were replaced by refinished pews and new kneelers that sit flush with the floor. Interior walls were repaired from water damage and repainted, while woodwork in the walls and ceiling was varnished and “edged with gold accent paint to call attention to the elaborate detail and craftsmanship,” according to the archdiocese. Columns were repainted; new, lighter flooring was incorporated to illuminate the space; air conditioning was installed, alongside a new light and sound system; and the stained-glass windows were cleaned, while backlighting for the night-time was added. An emphasis was placed on revitalizing the sanctuary space, bringing the congregation closer, adding new marble liturgical appointments, and reconfiguring the space to be handicap accessible and accommodating for more concelebrants.
The cathedral reopened for Holy Week, beginning with an invitation-only consecration of the space on Saturday, April 13th. The public was able to enter for Palm Sunday Mass on April 14th, and a regular multilingual Mass schedule resumed. On Tuesday, priests, religious, and laypeople gathered to celebrate the annual Chrism Mass, in which the priests renew their vows and chrism oil for the upcoming year is blessed. At the conclusion of this Mass on April 16, Cardinal O’Malley announced to the congregation that the rector of the cathedral, the Very Reverend Kevin O’Leary, had been appointed Reverend Monsignor by Pope Francis. Cardinal O’Malley presented Monsignor O’Leary with a purple-tufted biretta (the hat which denotes a monsignor) and explained, “Wherever he has served, he’s done it with joyful generosity, with energy and creativity. More than the great talent to clean and beautify broken down buildings, Kevin is a real pastor.”
The reopening of the cathedral came just a day before the fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. In the wake of this disaster, Cardinal O’Malley stated that the images of the burning cathedral were “horrifying, but I’m glad they were able to save as much as they did, as I thought they were going to lose the whole structure.”
He added, “It is an amazing place, and I hope it can be restored, but I can only imagine the distress of the French people.”
He hopes that Boston’s cathedral renovations can be a sign of hope, as “we were able to restore this cathedral, built by working-class immigrants of great faith, to be able to pass this treasure on to future Bostonians.”
As for the celebration of Boston’s renovations, rector Monsignor O’Leary remarked, “It’s a joyful occasion, though we really do feel solidarity with the people of France.”
Cardinal O’Malley assured the press that he was “very grateful we were able to do this renovation at this particular time,” as a sprinkler system and new fire alarm system were added–– and those who reviewed the previous system said it was “a miracle the place did not burn down” in the years prior to the renovation. The cardinal stated that he remains grateful for the new fire suppression system in the cathedral, and he continues to urge pastors in the archdiocese to “be attentive to their churches” and the needs and upkeep of the structures and related codes.
For more information on renovations as well as the Mass schedule for the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, visit their website.