Planning to Restore The Beauty of The Basilica July 5, 2024

I usually start my tours of our beautiful Basilica by recalling that on Christmas Day, 1903 Archbishop Ireland announced his vision to build a Pro-Cathedral in Minneapolis that would be dedicated to Saint Mary. This came as a complete surprise, as not that long before he announced the construction of the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul. It is not all that usual for a bishop to build one cathedral, to build two cathedrals at the same time is totally unheard of.

In describing his vision for the Pro-Cathedral of Saint Mary, Archbishop Ireland expressed his hope that the new building would reflect the values and the beauty of the Catholic Church. Since opening for the first Mass on May 31, 1914, the Pro-Cathedral of Saint Mary, now known as The Basilica of Saint Mary, has done just that.

Over the years, however, the beauty of the Pro-Cathedral has somewhat waned. The building has suffered due to extensive water damage and the accumulation of dirt from incense, candles and coal used for the heating of the building. By the late 1980s the building was in such disrepair that its very existence was in doubt. Thankfully, the courageous decision was made to preserve The Basilica by parish leaders and former Rector Dennis Dease.

Since the early 1990s amazing work has been done to safeguard the building. This has included a complete re-roofing project and ongoing work on the most severely damaged areas of the exterior. These and other initiatives have been less than glamorous but, necessary to make the building water-tight.

We are now at a point when we can start planning for the restoration of the interior of The Basilica, something we have dreamed about for many years. Our architects from HGA have studied the history of the building and have poured over the original plans and designs. Our restoration artists at Evergreene have peeled away the 1950s paint over the decorative ceiling discovering its original splendor. And our partners at Liberty Stained Glass Conservation have evaluated the condition of our stained glass windows.

As you entered The Basilica today, you will have noticed that scaffolding has gone up in the southeast corner. During the next three months HGA, Evergreene, and Liberty Glass Conservation will continue their assessment of the interior of The Basilica. They will test how to best clean the walls, repair the plaster, touch up the paint and restore the windows. This will give us even more information as we continue to prepare for the much-anticipated interior restoration of our beloved Basilica.

The ultimate goal of all these efforts is for The Basilica to continue to reflect and I would add “house” the virtues and the beauty of the Catholic Church for centuries to come in order to fulfil the hope Archbishop Ireland voiced some 120 years ago.

May Jesus, who is referred to in today’s Gospel as a carpenter bless all our efforts and may Saint Mary, his blessed Mother and Saint Joseph, his foster father and a carpenter himself intercede for the success of our work.

Johan van Parys, PhD
Managing Director of Ministries/ Director of Liturgy & Sacred Arts