St. Francis Xavier Cathedral reopens

Blessing of newly renovated church takes place during Dec. 3 Mass

GREEN BAY — “Welcome home,” said Bishop David Ricken to open the 9 a.m. Mass, Sunday, Dec. 3, at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral. The liturgy marked the reopening of the cathedral following a three-month closure for renovations.

Bishop David Ricken blesses the 28-foot-by-40-foot Crucifixion mural on the west wall of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral. All 11 murals in the cathedral were cleaned extensively and restored as closely to the original artwork as possible by Conrad Schmitt Studios Inc. of New Berlin, Wis. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

Four major projects — new flooring, cleaning and restoration of the artwork, refurbishment of the pews, and restoration and cleaning of the organ — were completed since the church closed on Sept. 4.

The complete restoration process for the 136-year-old cathedral began in 2015. A number of upgrades, including a new copper roof, restoration of the bronze doors, brick work, bell repair, sacristy renovations and a new sound system, had been completed in advance of the recent projects. The $2.4 million restoration effort featured a total of 18 projects completed by 25 contractors.

Coordination was the most challenging aspect during the last three months, said Steve Motl, volunteer project coordinator. Work on the murals required scaffolding in the church. The pews were taken apart and removed for refurbishment. Pew removal also allowed for work on the floor. The new porcelain tile, installed by HJ Martin and Son Inc. of Green Bay, was placed over the top of the previous floor.

“That saved a tremendous amount of dirt, dust and cost,” said Motl. “The old floor was actually two different heights, so it would have made (removal) even worse. The aisle tile was a different depth.”

The pews are now a tint darker, said Motl. DeWitt Church Goods Inc. contracted work on the pews to Wood Renovators of Iola, Wis.

“They took them apart, board by board, refinished the boards, brought them back and put them together in the church,” said Motl. “We have new cushions. The cushions have a type of board that fits the contour of the seat and attaches to it. So it’s the best of both worlds. It’s permanently fastened, but you can take it off if you have to clean it.”

The 11 murals in the cathedral were cleaned extensively and restored as close to the original artwork as possible by Conrad Schmitt Studios Inc. of New Berlin, Wis.

Bishop David Ricken addresses guests and members of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral during Mass Dec. 3, the feast of St. Francis Xavier, patron of the diocese and the cathedral. The liturgy marked the reopening of the Diocese of Green Bay’s mother church, which was closed for three months for interior remodeling. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

The Crucifixion mural behind the altar dates back to 1883. Other canvases were painted in 1909 and 1911. All the murals were refurbished in the 1930s.

“The processes they used then are not as good as they are today,” said Motl. “The big one in the apse had a lot of repaint. They were able to remove a lot of the repaint. One individual had six fingers. A lot of the faces were purple in color. They brought back so much of the original painting.”

“We chipped off years of dirt and grime,” said Eileen Grogan, director of historic preservation at Conrad Schmitt. “After receiving the call, I came up with a colleague to develop a plan. We used a kit of solvents to see which one was the most effective. Every painting is different.

“A barrier varnish was applied on top of each painting,” she added. “It can eventually be removed in years to come when new technology is available. The artistry is amazing. We are so pleased and proud to have worked in this gorgeous cathedral.”

“They are really a treasure,” said Motl abut the murals. “Typically, you would see artwork like this in New York and Chicago.”

Bishop Ricken was impressed by the newly restored artwork. He had previously thought that an image on a mural on the north side of the cathedral featured a cloud, but it is actually a sheep.

Wicks Pipe Organ Co. of Highland, Ill., tuned the reed pipes and rebuilt the console to restore the organ, which was built in 1985. All 3,000 pipes were retoned. Leaking seals in the underneath chambers were replaced and the blower, which had a buildup of coal dust, was cleaned.

“You could automatically switch one different setting,” said Motl about the organ prior to restoration. “You had to manually change ranks. This one will store up to 100 different combinations by the push of a button. It improves the playing capabilities and modernizes the console to make it more user-friendly.”

In addition to the four large projects, some additional changes were made prior to the reopening. A statue of St. Francis Xavier was restored and placed near the cathedral entrance from the adjoining Bishop Wycislo Center. Bishop Ricken pointed to the statue during his homily during the reopening Mass, which was also the feast of St. Francis Xavier.

“He is our patron (of the diocese and the cathedral), and we should call on him often,” said Bishop Ricken.

The statue of St. John Paul II, now located in the front of the cathedral on the Doty Street side, is a gift from Bishop Ricken.

“I want to officially ask him to be patron of New Evangelization for our diocese,” he said. “He was the first pope to use that term, ‘the New Evangelization.’”

Bishop David Ricken pauses to pray after blessing a statue of St. John Paul II, which he donated to St. Francis Xavier Cathedral. The statue previously stood in the bishop’s personal chapel and was a gift to the mother church of the diocese. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

A marble statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, removed from the cathedral in 1969, was reinstalled on the north side of the sanctuary. The back steps on the altar were reduced in size to create more space. Fr. Joseph Dorner, rector of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, said that the change allows for four celebrants and two deacons comfortably around the altar.

During his homily, Bishop Ricken explained the different upgrades within the restoration project. He then offered praise for the many people involved in the project, including the committee members: Fr. Dorner, Motl, Pat Hoslet, Chuck Johnson, Andrew Opicka and Chris Shaw. The bishop pointed out that the project was a combined effort between St. Francis Xavier Cathedral Parish and the Diocese of Green Bay. Michael Poradek, Divine Worship director and master of ceremonies, served as the diocesan lead. Bishop Ricken also noted the contributions of Fr. John Girotti, former rector at the cathedral.

“It started with Fr. Girotti, who was sent off to canon law studies,” he said. “I admire the way (Fr. Dorner) has taken on this project and his leadership.”

Bishop Ricken thanked the donors. He added that the campaign is nearing its target. Members of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral Parish raised more than 10 percent of the goal. The Catholic Foundation of the Diocese of Green Bay worked on the fundraising.

During the past three months, the 4 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. Sunday Masses for St. Francis Xavier Cathedral were held at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Green Bay, where Fr. Dorner also serves as pastor.

“(I feel) a spirit of gratitude for the parishioners at St. John the Evangelist Parish,” said Fr. Dorner. “They were such wonderful hosts who showed a great gift of hospitality. I am also thankful for the patience of the parishioners at cathedral parish.

“I have spoken to people who have lived within two miles of here and never realized how beautiful, what a treasure we have in the cathedral,” he added. “We want it to be a pilgrimage site.”

“Nine years ago, one of the first things I did (when arriving as bishop of Green Bay) was to come to see the cathedral, which is the mother church for the 16 counties in the diocese,” said Bishop Ricken. “This is one of the most beautiful churches I have seen. I’ve seen a lot of them. Beauty is important because it reminds us of God.”

The timeline goal was to complete the renovations for the 150-year anniversary of the Diocese of Green Bay on March 3, 2018. The Diocese of Green Bay was established by Pope Pius IX in 1868. Bishop Joseph Melcher, the first bishop of the diocese, raised funds for the cathedral. Bishop Xavier Krautbauer, who is entombed in the cathedral, succeeded Bishop Melcher in 1875. Construction on St. Francis Xavier Cathedral began in 1876. It was consecrated on Nov. 20, 1881.

“This building is a symbol for the renewal of the entire diocese,” said Bishop Ricken. “It’s not just about renewing our buildings. We need to renew our bodies and our hearts. We can become missionary disciples. The days of people just coming here are over. Each one of us has to be a missionary disciple reaching out to our neighbors, people we meet in the grocery. People are hurting. … We’ve renewed the building, now let’s renew the temple of the body of Christ.”

VIEW MORE PHOTOS: To view a photo gallery from the Mass and blessing, visit our Flickr album.