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St. Benedict Cathedral: 'remade By The Grace Of God'

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ONE " The dark wood at the bottom right of this photo represents the front edge of the old choir loft at St. Benedict Cathedral. The renovation includes expansion of the loft and the creation of gathering space on the main floor under it.

Editor’s note: Beginning with this feature, The Message will publish stories about the projects underway and planned across the Diocese of Evansville that have been made possible, at least in part, by the “Stewards of God’s Grace” campaign. These features will appear in all-diocesan issues of the paper in order to share the good news from our parishes with as many people as possible. We begin with St. Benedict Cathedral.

Photos by Mark Valenzuela and Jeremy Korba, special to The Message.

At the very beginning of the ongoing renovation of St. Benedict Cathedral in Evansville, Benedictine Father Godfrey Mullen, who serves as rector, apologized to the parish community during weekend Masses. “I apologized to the parish at the Sunday Masses for the inconvenience of the renovation: the mess, the dust, the inconvenience,” Father Mullen said. “The overwhelming response from parishioners was that there was no need for an apology because there was excitement about the project beginning and being brought to a happy conclusion. The renovation has also become a running theme for our lives: constantly in need of conversion and renovation. As a parish, we are also being remade by the grace of God.”

Although the most noticeable elements of the project involve redecoration of the sanctuary, Father Mullen explained that there is much more involved. “While the redecoration of the cathedral will be the most obvious result of the work – including fresh paint throughout, some new flooring, pews, lighting and an expanded choir loft with gathering spaces below – some of the biggest changes will be unseen: patching plaster, new electrical work throughout the entire building and updated electronic systems. Another part of the project is the completion of a drive off Lincoln Avenue, directly across from College Highway, to the parking lot.”

As you can see from the photos appearing with this story, the diocesan cathedral looks quite different from the way most have seen it. The removal of the pews and installation of massive scaffolding has cut seating capacity by more than 50 percent. “Our seating capacity has temporarily shrunk from over 900 to 410,” Father Mullen said. “Parishioners are good-spirited about this change, recognizing that the pews will return before the end of the construction. Especially at daily Mass, which occurs behind the altar, some have expressed their happiness at a more intimate setting for Mass. We are forced to be closer to one another in church and already several times, people have had to stand at Mass because of a lack of seating.”

Father Mullen said that Brandt Construction of Indianapolis, the general contractor, is predicting “substantial completion” by October 2019. “Thanks be to God, there have been no major surprises so far in the project,” he said. “In part, that comes from excellent planning through the work of our architect, Entheos, and their work on our Master Plan a few years ago. Before Entheos arrived on the scene, we relied on the excellent work of Hafer Design for our architectural planning.

“Hiring an Indianapolis contractor was a difficult decision, except for the vast experience of Brandt with the renovation of churches,” Father Mullen added. “Almost all of our subcontractors are local companies. We're pleased to support local businesses in this great work for our parish.”

Father Mullen also highlighted the efforts of members of the St Benedict Cathedral family for bringing the effort from early planning several years ago to a project that is on track to be only several more months from completion. “Several committees have contributed to the work of the cathedral renovation over the past 10 years,” he said. “Under the direction of Deacon David Cook and (Director of Music) Jeremy Korba, a committee began the conversation about a minor renovation of the church. Our parish Campaign Committee also assisted in the work of gathering the financial stewardship to pay for the project. Most recently, the Construction Committee that worked with the architects to produce the design documents included Tricia Hollander Henning, Matt Miller, Steve Titzer and Yancy Wollenmann. I'm very grateful to all the parishioners who have contributed to this project.”