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.
“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.
“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.