A new vocation for St. Paul the Apostle Church

By Bishop Edward J. Burns

On Wednesday, July 6th, I met with St. Paul’s parishioners to discuss the recent decision of the Congregation of Bishops in Rome to approve the petition to make St. Paul the Apostle Church the Co-Cathedral of the Diocese. Allow me to share with you some background and our next steps.

Within the resolutions of the Second Diocesan Synod in November 2013, it was promulgated that “the tabernacle in which the Most Blessed Sacrament is reserved in each Church building be located in the main worship space so as to promote reverence toward the Real Presence of Christ and for the holiness of the worship space itself.” At the Diocesan Synod, it was accepted that in addressing sacred spaces and liturgical practices in the Diocese, the universal norms of the Church found in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and the Liturgical Norms of the Diocese of Juneau would be followed. The survey of St. Paul parishioners conducted prior to the Synod about moving the tabernacle to the main worship space received majority support. In September of 2014 the Presbyteral Council (the priests of the Diocese) unanimously agreed that the Diocese should begin looking at renovating and reorienting the liturgical space of St. Paul Church. This was brought before the Full-Time Ministers of the Diocese at its September meeting the same year and the proposal of renovating St. Paul’s Church received overwhelming support.

With this information, I brought the idea of renovating St. Paul the Apostle Church before the pastoral council of the Diocese and they gave unanimous support for this renovation. I also met with the pastoral council and staff of St. Paul’s at a meeting in October 2014. At that meeting, Fr. Pat Travers explained the need for renovation. First of all, he pointed out that there is no clearly defined sanctuary (the area where the altar, the tabernacle, the pulpit, the presider and ministers are located). It was pointed out that the diagonal arrangement of the aisles and entrance make for a certain disorienting effect, especially affecting the celebration of weddings and funerals, for which there is no clear processional route. It was noted that pallbearers are not sure where the casket is to be placed for the funeral Mass.

The placement of the three areas of pews at right angles to one another breaks up the unity of the assembly. The fact that the left pew area (from the priest’s standpoint) is the one nearest the entrance to the Church means that, for many celebrations, most of the assembly is seated on that side, rather than being distributed throughout the Church. There are severe safety issues with the uneven surface of the concrete floor and its complicated system of steps and low dividers: this has necessitated the placement of black and yellow safety tape to mark the hazards. The Church does not have a dedicated confessional for the Sacrament of Penance, and the current placement of the tabernacle brings confusion to the faithful as to whether parishioners should genuflect in that area.

St. Paul the Apostle Church during a May 2015 Diaconal ordination.

When the steering committee for the renovation of the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary entered into full study and due diligence, it was evident that the Cathedral is too small to accommodate most Diocesan celebrations. With this in mind, it was proposed that St. Paul Church be identified as a Co-Cathedral. For the past number of years, St. Paul the Apostle Church has been the site for a Bishop’s Installation, Diocesan Blue Masses, Ordinations, and historical gatherings such as the Second Synod of the Diocese and the upcoming Southeast Alaska Catholic Conference. The Cathedral downtown is not equipped to handle such celebrations; it is not large enough to accommodate diocesan liturgies.

I presented to those at the town hall meeting that being raised to the dignity of a Cathedral is an honor for St. Paul the Apostle Church and that this identifies a new vocation for the life of the parish – one that has been graciously lived out through the past celebrations, but now will be poised and identified as the rightful place for such celebrations.

Therefore, I petitioned the Holy See to seek Co-Cathedral status for St. Paul’s and indicated in the proposal that much work has gone into discussing a renovation and that it is part of our Diocesan Pastoral Plan. The Prefect of Congregation of Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, has determined that such a renovation and reorientation of the interior is necessary so that St. Paul’s can become the diocesan Co-Cathedral and serve as a model for the celebration of the liturgy and sacraments for the entire Diocese.

While a number of parishioners raised the concern about the cost of this project, especially since the parish is still addressing its mortgage, I indicated that I am aware of the need to be prudent and an effective steward of our resources. A number of parishioners also expressed a concern about changing the design. I announced that I will be establishing a steering committee to propose the scope, depth and details of this renovation and reorientation. I also indicated that the financial cost, while not yet identified, will be the responsibility of the Diocese as a whole and not simply the responsibility of St. Paul’s. It is important to note that a timeframe for this project has not been determined. In other words, we are at our nascent stages in addressing this endeavor. I asked parishioners to submit to me names and qualifications of those who would serve well in this capacity.

Future town hall meetings will be planned to gain insights from the parishioners about the process and to keep them informed about the progress.

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