By Mary Stone
Bishop Edward Burns gathered with members of the parish community and building consultants for a town hall meeting on April 6, 2015, in Juneau to discuss a recent building consultant report to the Cathedral Renovation Steering Committee and the Diocese of Juneau, indicating that the existing downtown Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, while structurally sound, is inadequate in both size and site to continue to serve as the Diocesan Cathedral. The current church was built in 1911, and designated as the Cathedral of the Diocese of Juneau in 1951.
Fr. Thomas Lucas, SJ, a leading international consultant on Catholic liturgy, church building and restoration, and who is currently serving as the superior of the Jesuit community at Seattle University, was on hand to make a presentation to the assembled group. Fr. Thomas Lucas was previously asked by MRV Architects, working with the Cathedral Renovation Steering Committee, to assess the needs of the current Cathedral structure and to make recommendations for improvement. Fr. Lucas presented his research findings earlier this year, concluding that the current structure of the downtown Cathedral, while beautiful, historic, and worthy of renovation, is inadequate for the specific needs associated with a diocesan cathedral. Upon hearing the report, Bishop Edward Burns felt compelled to bring this issue to parishioners of the diocese in the form of a town hall meeting and comment period, announcing the meeting in a letter to Diocese of Juneau parishes on March 31, 2015.
Fr. Lucas’s April 6 presentation outlined for those present the nine special needs and requirements of a Cathedral church: sufficient size and capacity for diocesan gatherings; large and flexible sanctuary; suitablity for complex liturgies; ability to facilitate assembly participation; ample gathering/procession space; adequate baptismal pool; adequate space and location for music ministry; meets ADA requirements and needs for amenities; and, has a central location within the community. Seating only 140, and with limited parking and amenities, the only requirement the current Cathedral meets is that of a central downtown location.
Fr. Lucas recommended to Bishop Burns and the Diocese that they ‘acknowledge the reality that is already in place’: St. Paul’s church in the valley is more suited to meet the needs of a cathedral, and is already fulfilling that role. St. Paul’s has the appropriate size and scale – seating over 400 comfortably, has ‘good bones’ structurally, excellent liturgical furnishings and art, is ADA accessible, has adequate amenities and ample parking. Its site, while in the Mendenhall valley, is only a short drive from downtown Juneau.
The comment period following Fr. Lucas’ presentation was a time for concerned parishioners to express to Bishop Burns the various implications of this important decision. Some of the 85 present — parishioners of both the Cathedral and St. Paul’s — shared concerns that the greatly needed downtown church restoration might be put on the ‘backburner’ if the Cathedral designation was changed to St. Paul’s. And, that the funds and fundraising needed for the downtown church restoration would be compromised by the need for renovation of St. Paul’s to make it more functional as a cathedral. Also, if the current arrangement of St. Paul’s hosting diocesan and community events is functional and facilitates interaction and cooperation between the two Juneau parishes, then a change may not necessarily be beneficial. The general sentiments of those present, including Bishop Burns, indicated that the historic downtown church held a special place in the community’s hearts and history, and that its restoration and continued status as an active parish was of high importance.
Fr. Pat Casey, OMI, Cathedral rector, expressed his appreciation for the helpful input provided at the meeting, and shared that Cathedral renovation plans would continue to move forward to address the needs of ADA accessibility and amenities, regardless of whether the church remained the diocesan cathedral or not. “We don’t want to focus on the chair,” he summarized, referring to the Bishop’s chair, or ‘cathedra,’ from which the word ‘cathedral’ is derived.
The town hall presentation and discussion can be viewed via the internet at:
Bishop Burns is accepting input and comment on this important decision for our diocese through the month of April. To share thoughts and concerns, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or, mail written comment to:
Diocese of Juneau
415 6th St., Suite 300, Juneau, AK 99801