Cathedral rector extends invitation to Catholics to make a pilgrimage

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | March 19, 2015

Fr. Dorner encourages community to visit central church of diocese

GREEN BAY — Fr. Joseph Dorner wants to open wide the doors of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral and welcome all Catholics from the Green Bay Diocese to step inside.

Now in his seventh month as rector, Fr. Dorner is leading an initiative to remind members of the diocese that, while the cathedral is a parish, it is also the central church of the diocese.

Fr. Joseph Dorner, rector of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, encourages Catholics from throughout the Diocese of Green Bay to make a pilgrimage to the diocese’s central church. “This is your ‘church away from church,’” he says. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)
Fr. Joseph Dorner, rector of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, encourages Catholics from throughout the Diocese of Green Bay to make a pilgrimage to the diocese’s central church. “This is your ‘church away from church,’” he says. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

“In a way, everyone who is a member of this diocese belongs to the cathedral,” Fr. Dorner told The Compass. “You have a home away from home. This is your ‘church away from church.’”

The cathedral is home to several diocesan events, including the chrism Mass (when Bishop David Ricken blesses the holy oils that are used throughout the year in parishes), ordinations and Masses for the health care and legal communities. But guests are welcome to the cathedral any time, said Fr. Dorner.

In hopes of bringing awareness to this invitation, Fr. Dorner recently wrote a letter to pastors and parish leaders across the diocese. “This church … belongs to all of us,” he wrote.

Fr. Dorner has a list of things people can do to promote the cathedral as a place of pilgrimage.

First, he invites Catholics to join the “Keepers of the Cathedral,” a group of volunteers who welcome visitors on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Keepers of the Cathedral began in 2010 under the direction of former rector, Fr. John Girotti.

“My hope is that we can get enough volunteers and, at least one day a week, we can keep it open until 8 or 9 at night so all working people of the area, if they want to come to a church to pray, it’s open,” said Fr. Dorner.

The cathedral offers the sacrament of reconciliation every Wednesday evening.

“We provide (reconciliation) from 6 to 8 every Wednesday night and I would like people from throughout the diocese to see that this is a place to come for confession,” said Fr. Dorner. “It’s a place to come and pray.”

Another offering that Fr. Dorner introduced this year was celebrating Ash Wednesday Mass at 6 a.m. for people who work downtown. More than 90 people attended, he said.

“We have made a commitment here. Whenever there is a holy day of obligation on a work day, we are going to have that 6 a.m. Mass,” said Fr. Dorner. “I want the word to get out so that pastors, who are already busy enough, they can advertise it: ‘If you’re in the greater Green Bay area, go to your mother church, they’ve got one there.’”

In addition to prayer and worship, the cathedral is a place to experience beauty through religious art. It offers guided and self-guided tours, where guests can learn about the stained glass windows and oil paintings that grace the worship space. A virtual self-guided tour, which takes about 25 minutes, can also be experienced on the cathedral website, www.sfxcathedralgb.com/guided tour. By calling ahead of time (920) 432-4348, groups of up to 20 people can be accommodated for guided tours.

The Diocesan Museum, located in the basement of the Bishop Wycislo Center, adjacent to the cathedral, is home to religious articles dating back hundreds of years. (See photo slideshow below.) The museum is open every Sunday from 10 a.m. to noon. In the planning stage is a multimedia kiosk, which will include audio and video presentations of diocesan history.

“The purpose of that (kiosk) is to create an audio history and collection of data for every parish and Catholic institution throughout the diocese,” said Fr. Dorner. “When people come on pilgrimage here, I want them to stop by our diocesan museum and see the history of the diocese, of every parish and institution.”

Fr. Dorner believes that, by taking on a more visible role in the diocese, the cathedral is responding to the new evangelization.

“It’s a place of beauty, a place of important events like the chrism Mass and ordinations, a place of history and a place of prayer,” he said. “As part of the new evangelization, I hope the cathedral can play its role.”

Looking to the future, Fr. Dorner said the 150th anniversary of the Green Bay Diocese in 2018 will be an important celebration for the cathedral. In anticipation of the sesquicentennial, St. Francis Xavier Cathedral is in the initial phase of a capital campaign.

The cathedral staff hopes to raise enough funds to renovate and restore interior and exterior fixtures.

“To get ready for that 2018 celebration, we want to get ahead of things. The bells don’t ring,” he said. “We have five bells in our cathedral parish and we can’t ring them. We want that fixed. We also have a major roofing job and major brick work that needs to be done.”

Inside, Fr. Dorner said the audio system needs updating, the pews need refurbishing and cracked ceramic tiles need replacing.

“We would also love to clean the beautiful paintings,” he said. The eight oil paintings high above both sides of the cathedral walls, as well as two on the front walls and the center mural depicting the crucifixion need professional cleaning, Fr. Dorner said.

“If anyone has ever seen the old version of the Sistine Chapel and then seen what the artwork looks like after professional cleaning, it’s like night and day,” he said. “I’m convinced that our cathedral, with a professional cleaning … is really going to be brightened up more than it is already.”

Creating an atmosphere of spiritual wonder and beauty can bring people to God, said Fr. Dorner.

“I think people find God in many ways,” the priest explained. “Look at St. John the Evangelist Parish (of which he is also pastor), providing shelter to the homeless and ministering to the deaf. Here, maybe our approach is to touch people through beauty. … There’s been too many times in too many of our churches that, just out of lack of funds, they have painted over paintings or removed them. Couldn’t we at the cathedral preserve some of that 19th century art and history? We are in a good spot to be custodians.”

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