Denver’s Cathedral close to reclaiming its former glory

Faithful’s help requested in completing ‘restoration for the ages’

The majestic towers of Denver’s iconic Cathedral Basilica now stand immaculate as they once did over a century ago. After months of cleaning, carving, replacing and repeating, the restoration of the main façade of Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is almost complete. But if the prominent building is to see its former glory, it may need just as many helping hands as the numerous beautifully-carved ornaments that embellish it.

What began as an apparent one-month, $100,000 project quickly turned into a 28-month, $4.4 million job as experts took a closer look at the damage in the building. After setting up almost a million dollars’ worth of scaffolding, expenses kept adding up.

With the $2.9 million in the Cathedral savings and restoration fund depleted, the basilica’s operating budget is $200,000 in the hole, and the remaining work to be done is nearly $600,000, plus scaffolding.

“We first wanted to spend the money [we had in the bank] before seeking donors to help us with the cost,” said Father Ron Cattany, Pastor and Rector of the Cathedral. “Now we’re going back to people who love the cathedral and asking them to help us again.”

Denver, CO, June 6, 2018: A professional stone carver smooths out a stone above the Holy Door of the Cathedral Basilica. (Photo by Aaron Lambert)

Some of the added expenses in the renovation process included the surprise revelation that the west tower had been struck by lightning at one point during the last 20 years, meaning that the top of the tower had to be replaced, Father Cattany explained.

Moreover, hail damage on the east- and west-side roofs and the area behind the sanctuary caused leaks that prevented a repainting of the Cathedral after 25 years. An even greater problem emerged when Father Cattany realized that the façade above the roofs had to be fixed first, otherwise a falling stone would void the warranty.

“This is all very consequential … That is why part of the remaining $600,000 of work that needs to be done includes those two façades over the east and west doors,” Father Cattany said.

Vandalism has also forced the rector to hire security guards 24 hours a day, as people have destroyed tools and thrown supplies down from the scaffolding and onto Colfax Avenue.

Even then, Denver’s Cathedral serves all the different populations of the area by keeping its doors open to the public around 90 hours a week.

Denver, CO, June 6, 2018: Hundreds of stones have been replaced and recarved in the cathedral renovation process. (Photo by Aaron Lambert)

“The decision I made when I was appointed this position was that I wanted to keep the Church open during the day. What we’ve learned is that after all Masses and confessions, we still have over 140 visitors a day,” Father Cattany said. “People come because it’s a landmark, some come to pray, some come just to take a rest out of the day … And to me that is a great gift to the city.

“When we found out the amount of work that needed to be done, it was a great shock to me,” he continued. “But we’ve had the best people working on it, including Our Blessed Mother, she keeps an eye on it all, and now she’s got a good partner: Julia Greeley.”

The Cathedral needs you!

Denver’s iconic Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is looking better than ever, but it is still in need of some vital repairs to the exterior.

Repairs to the North, East and West façades: $2 million

Repairs to the Colfax façade: $468,000

Leaking side roofs: $50,000

East Door Handicapped entrance: $50,000

Give today and help preserve a sacred piece of Colorado history!

For more information:
denvercathedral.org
303-831-7010

COMING UP: Denver’s iconic Cathedral Basilica to undergo extensive repairs

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What stands at 210 feet, contains ornate stonework dating back to the early 1900s, and is covered in $985,000 worth of scaffolding in order to be repaired?

The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is one of Denver’s dearest landmarks, and it is in desperate need of repair. Father Ron Cattany, Pastor and Rector of the Cathedral, launched a capitol campaign Oct. 22, the feast day of St. John Paul II, to raise $2.4 million to repair the spires and Colfax facade of the Cathedral, which are in dire shape. Construction of the scaffolding began Sept. 19, and the project is well-underway.

A seemingly random event that occurred in March led to the revelation of the state of the building, one that required Father Cattany to act immediately.

“One of the grape clusters fell over the Holy Door,” Father Cattany recounted. “I thank God that when it fell between Sunday Masses, it fell at a time when nobody was there to get hurt. God’s providence always gets us the right message at the right time, and it’s our job to respond.”

Father Cattany contacted a local contractor, Summit Sealants, to conduct the repairs. The original plan was to have workers rappelling off the building and tapping the exterior to identify the pieces of stone that needed to be repaired.

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Father Ron Cattany looks out toward the city of Denver from the roof of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

“They started on June 1. On June 10, they stopped,” Father Cattany told Denver Catholic. “What they discovered was that some of the pieces were so loose that they were concerned both about the safety of their workers and the safety of the people.”

As a precaution, Summit Sealants asked Father Cattany to close the west entrance to the Cathedral and put fencing around the west side of the building to prevent passersby from getting too close. Summit Sealants submitted a new design process for the repairs, which featured words that were “shocking” for Father Cattany to hear.

“The direct quote, and that was when my heart stopped, was, ‘The entire building is in desperate need of repair, and it needs a full restoration,’” Father Cattany said. “Originally, it was anticipated that the job was going to be one month, and about $100,000. It’s now going to take six to eight months, the base cost is $1.7 million, and on top of that will be time and materials for anything that needs to be remade.”

The total cost is expected to be $2.4 million for this phase and an additional $1 million for the remainder of the structure for a total of $3.4 million, Father Cattany said.

The scaffolding alone, which the workers will use to access the exterior of the Cathedral and the spires and conduct the repairs, will cost $985,000. The four beams that will support the scaffolding weigh a total of 36,000 pounds.

In an email to Father Cattany from Lawrence Holland, project manager for Summit Sealants, the immense scale of the project was outlined rather succinctly: “I must emphasize again the complexity of designing and building a system that is virtually building a building over a building all the while maintaining the day-to-day operations of the parish.”

As a 104-year-old building, the Cathedral has undergone a number of renovations during its lifespan. Though the damage to the exterior can be attributed to normal deterioration, Father Cattany said that the building was sandblasted in 1963, and due to the harsher, more invasive sandblasting technology of the time, it left pock marks all over the stonework on the outside of the building. Father Cattany said that after 50 years of freezing and thawing, some of the carvings have now cracked, which is part of the trouble.

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Deterioration of the exterior of the Cathedral during its 100-plus year lifespan has led to a capitol campaign aimed at raising $2.4 million to repair the spires and façade of the building. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

“There are carvings where you can remove a whole section like a piece of pie,” he said. “It’s shocking to see what’s happened.”

The Cathedral is near and dear to Father Cattany. He grew up attending Mass at the Cathedral with his family, attended Mass there during his 35-year career two blocks away, his grandparents were buried from the Cathedral in 1919 and 1920, and his cousin was baptized in the original baptismal font that remains to this day.

To highlight the significance of the Cathedral Basilica to the city of Denver, Father Cattany turned to the book Pinnacled Glory of the West, in which author and first Cathedral Rector Father Hugh McMenamin recounts the day of Oct. 27, 1912 — the Cathedral’s dedication date.

“What’s fascinating about it is that the concluding lines were, ‘And thus ended Denver’s greatest day,’” Father Cattany said.

The Cathedral is much more than just the mother church of the archdiocese, Father Cattany said. Even today, over 140 visitors enter through the golden doors to revel in its beautiful architecture and pray in its solemn silence. It’s a quiet refuge in the midst of bustling downtown Denver, and Father Cattany wants to ensure it remains open for all to enjoy, even during construction.

“This is a place of prayer, it’s a place of praise, it’s a place of peace, and it’s a place of preservation.” Father Cattany said. “This place is a special gift to everyone. It is a place that we want everyone to visit, to enjoy, to celebrate and to love.”

Cathedral Preservation Fund

One-time Donations can be made:
– By check payable to the Cathedral
– By donation online at denvercathedral.org
– By kiosk donation available in the church or rectory

Three-year pledges may be paid monthly or quarterly:
– Online at denvercathedral.org
– By check
– By direct deposit to the Cathedral’s bank account
– By check regularly mailed from the donor’s bank until pledge is fully paid

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article did not state that Premier Specialty Contractors conducted the repairs to the Cathedral in 1998. The article has been updated to reflect this.