Steeple renovation kicks off series of celebrations
By Fabvienen Taylor
JACKSON — For several months as passersby neared the intersection of North West and Amite streets, many peered skyward toward the tower of scaffolding draping the front of the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle from the top of the steeple to the sidewalk.
Since the middle of January the 110-year-old building has undergone $700,000 of repairs and renovations to its steeple, roof and bell tower.
As the scaffolding gradually comes down, it reveals the newly-gold-leafed 9 x 6 foot cross atop the 25-foot slate-covered steeple with copper seams.
Moving downward, the floor of the steeple becomes the ceiling of the bell tower, which has copper-cladded gables.
On each side of the bell tower is a small gold-leafed cross. Surrounding the bell tower are 12 newly-polished finials.
While the removing of the scaffolding signals the completion of the cathedral’s steeple and roof renovations, it also highlights the growing momentum of the St. Peter community as it gears up to celebrate the 110th anniversary of the church’s dedication on Pentecost Sunday, at a special 9:30 a.m. Mass on May 23.
Mass will be followed with a brunch set up in tents on the parking lot. The tents will be have banners displaying historical photographs of the church building.
On the heels of that celebration, in 2011, St. Peter will mark its 165th anniversary as a parish.
The following year, 2012, the Diocese of Jackson will celebrate its 175th anniversary.
“I think there has been anticipation growing over the years knowing there were structural issues we needed to attend to at the cathedral and also anticipation in knowing we will celebrate our 165th anniversary and then the 175th as a diocese,” said Father Jeffrey Waldrep, pastor.
Studies on the structure of the steeple and bell tower prior to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 had revealed dry rot, termite damage, wet rot, leaks and other deterioration. The need for repairs and renovations were exacerbated by damage from the hurricane.
Meetings and consultations with engineers, construction contractors, historical and restoration experts and St. Peter’s finance council and the parish building committee and Father Waldrep resulted in moving forward with the structural renovations.
With funds already raised by the parish and insurance money from the hurricane damage, Durable Restoration Company, which has offices in Ohio, Indiana, Louisiana and Florida, was hired to do the work.
The company specializes in the preservation and restoration of historical buildings and landmarks.
“The people from Durable had passion for their work,” said Father Waldrep, who made several trips up the scaffolding to inspect the work.
“They did not treat this as just a building to be repaired and that shows in the final product. They worked in rain, snow, through everything to get the project completed.”
Felix Garth, administrative assistant at St. Peter, was liaison between the parish and Durable. He also documented the before-and-after work with digital photographs for the parish archives.
“What is unique about the people from Durable is they could do the structural work but had their own artisans and craftsmen to do woodwork, repair finials and parapets, do gold-leaf, a variety of things,” said Garth.
Rick Ladina, a foreman on the cathedral project, has worked for Durable 18 years. He has a bachelor’s in fine arts from Columbus College of Art and Design and has won several craftsmanship awards.
“The cathedral to me is a work of art but is also a very tangible structure,” said Ladina. “I’m very lucky to be able to work on these type of things and to leave my mark, so to say.
“I’ve worked on at least 25 steeples, doing total restorations, gold-leafing, other things. I love to do this. When I leave and see what I have done, the pay-off is very large.”
With three celebrations coming up, Father Waldrep said each will have its own focus.
On Pentecost Sunday, the focus will be on the cathedral building as a whole. Completing the repairs and renovations on the steeple, bell tower and roof is the first of several stages of work to be done at the cathedral.
The next stage, he said, is the repair of the brick and mortar on the outside of the cathedral followed by work on the stained glass windows and their frames.
“We will then address the inside of the cathedral, the electrical, lighting and sound systems,” he said.
To secure the funds for the work, a capital campaign will begin in October, he said.
“We are looking at a goal of a million dollars and our celebration goal will be $2.5 million. Whatever we get after a million will determine how many projects we will be able to go forward with.
“It is very exciting. There is a lot of anticipation about the projects. Felix has done a very good job of staying on top of it all. The finance committee has worked hard, the building committee has worked hard, and the preservation committee is going to start working very hard.”
Father Waldrep noted two unexpected things resulting from the steeple project.
“It is amazing but it has pulled the parish together and given them something to be excited about, together.
“Also, it has excited the community and the diocese because people have come up and looked at it and are constantly asking questions. And as they look up they are beginning to realize the beauty and design of the structure that is already there.”
He said people have told him how much they appreciate what the Catholic Church is doing for downtown. “It has been a great evangelization tool. I think the steeple renovation is going to be an accent to the downtown skyline,” Father Waldrep said.