GREEN BAY — Prior to the 9 a.m. Mass on Sunday, Dec. 13, Bishop David Ricken will officially open the Holy Doors of Mercy for the Diocese of Green Bay at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral. The Monroe Street and Doty Street doors will be locked. All will enter the Bishop Wycislo Center for the solemn procession through the resurrection room doors into the cathedral. This will serve as the holy door Pope Francis has asked each cathedral to designate for the Year of Mercy, which began on Dec. 8.
The gathering is another reminder that St. Francis Xavier Cathedral is the mother church of the diocese; one which has undergone some recent upgrades and is in need of more.
When Fr. Joe Dorner began as rector and pastor more than a year ago, work on the steeples had been completed, but additional problems needed to be addressed.
“The resources of this parish of 530 units were tapped out,” he explained. “We decided to go to the diocese for help. The roof was bad and we were starting to see some (exterior) bricks fall. The response from the diocese was, ‘Why don’t you make a list from top to bottom?’ This is a one-time appeal to the diocese. We put together this whole list of items we would like to get done to get ready for the (diocesan) sesquicentennial in 2018.” (The Diocese of Green Bay will mark the 150th anniversary of its establishment in 2018.)
In addition to the roof and brick restoration, which are now complete, the list includes a new sound system, heating and air conditioning upgrades, sacristy remodeling, mural restoration, bell repair, floor replacement and refinished pews with new cushions.
“We were given permission to raise as much as $3 million,” said Fr. Dorner. “We need $2.3 million for the projects. The remaining $700,000 would give us an income stream of $35,000 per year to offset continuing costs of taking care of the cathedral.”
The Monroe and Doty street doors have been restored and look new. The sound system is the next project. Fr. Dorner hoped that it would be completed by Christmas, but estimates sometime in January. DSH Audio Visions of Milwaukee is designing the system. Two plans were considered. The first involved keeping the three major speakers — the large speaker hanging above the altar and the two at the heads of the side aisles. The second plan, which was selected, will include more than 20 speakers on the pillars.
Fr. Dorner, who also serves as pastor at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Green Bay, said that there were some concerns about the “aesthetic beauty of the church,” but the speakers are small — 30 inches by 8 inches or smaller — and they are going to be colored to blend in with the interior.
“This will allow us to bring the volume down,” he added. “Right now, we have the problem where we really have to crank up the volume because we only have three speakers. The main one is 50 feet above everyone’s head. We have this big volume echoing above us. Plus there are these dead spots behind the pillars. The (new) speakers will be closer to the people so the volume will be lower and there will no longer be the dead spots.”
Nearly $2 million has been raised so far. The floor and pews are at the end of the list and will be replaced and refinished, respectively, only if there are sufficient funds. The oil paintings will be cleaned, repaired and protected in the fall of 2017. Ideally, work on the floor and pews will be done at the same time. If so, the church will be closed for two-and-a-half to three months.
“I’m hoping that people will be open to celebrating Mass at St. John’s during that three-month period,” said Fr. Dorner. “There are cracks in the floor and there is nothing unique about it. If we have enough money; if somebody steps forward; it’s God’s will. Otherwise, we will stick with the old floor.”
Conrad Schmitt Studios will remove the old varnish from the paintings and apply a modern finish. Fr. Dorner believes that the original plan in the cathedral, built in 1881, was to feature artwork representing the 10 Commandments. Instead the eight beatitudes are depicted. This likely explains why there are still two spots that are missing paintings.
“I think what we are going to have here is something like the Sistine Chapel effect when we clean these paintings,” said Fr. Dorner. “There will be a before and after similar to what they experienced in Rome.”
He hopes that the faithful of the diocese not only visit the cathedral to enter through the Holy Doors, but also understand the meaning.
“There is a desire to leave something behind, to let go of something from the previous life,” he explained. “When they pass through those doors, they are leaving one stage of life and entering a new stage. The Holy Door is connected to baptism. We die to our old self and enter a new life.”
Prayer cards will be available at the doors. Pope Francis has also emphasized the need for reconciliation during the Year of Mercy. Confessions are offered from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays and from 2:15 to 3:30 p.m. Saturdays at the cathedral.
“This church belongs to all of us,” said Fr. Dorner. “When I was in Marinette, I brought our eighth graders down here. They were always in awe. They really appreciated the beauty of it. More importantly, it’s a sacred place where our priests are ordained and our bishops preach.”
The cathedral is also home to the chrism Mass when the holy oils are blessed and will be the future site of the annual rite of election for RCIA candidates at the start of Lent.
“We want people to know that this is a place of prayer, a place of pilgrimage, a symbol of the unity of all Catholics in northeast Wisconsin,” said Fr. Dorner. “We are open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday for visits. The diocesan museum is open from 10 a.m. to noon after the 9 a.m. Mass on Sunday. We also have a wonderful 25-minute self-guided audio tour. It truly is a treasure.”
Fr. Dorner credits the many volunteers from the parish, specifically naming Chris Shaw, Steve Motl and Chuck Johnson, along with Pat Hoslet, maintenance manager, and Barbara Wiegand, diocesan director of facilities and properties, for their assistance with projects.
“This small parish has been taking care of this church of Green Bay for quite some time,” he added. “I’m very grateful. This used to be a very large parish. We are holding our own. We draw people from all over the greater Green Bay area. We are blessed that way.”
For more information about the Cathedral Campaign, visit www.catholicfoundationgb.org.