As workers cleaned up Holy Name Cathedral and evaluated the damage caused by a Feb. 4 fire, clergy and parishioners got on with the business of worship.
For the second time in just under a year, the cathedral has become unusable because of damage. Last February, it was wood falling from the ceiling that closed the 134-year-old building’s doors; this year, less than six months after the cathedral reopened, a fire in the attic area just below the roof left the oak and walnut ceiling intact but did enough damage to close the building while repairs are made.
Father Dan Mayall, the cathedral rector and pastor of Holy Name Cathedral Parish, said that in some ways, it’s easier this time around because cathedral staff had a plan in place to relocate daily and weekend Masses.
Within hours of the fire, the cathedral web site advised visitors that daily Masses would be celebrated in the club room the parish center and Sunday Masses would be celebrated in the parish center auditorium.
“That’s one good thing,” said Linda Weaver, a parishioner who serves as a lector and extraordinary minister of communion, and is active in several other ministries. “We know what we need to do. We need to have greeters outside to direct people, and we need to have extra lectors on stand-by in case we have to have an overflow Mass.”
Weaver said she had been in the cathedral the evening before the fire, listening to people who want to become lectors there.
“We were sitting there, just enjoying the majesty and the stillness and the quiet,” Weaver said. “It was just awesome.”
Weaver said she has faith it will be again.
Cardinal George expressed that same faith when he met with reporters shortly after the fire was put out.
“Chicago has bounced back from fires before,” said the cardinal, as firefighters still poured water on the steaming roof. “We will bounce back from this.”
The cardinal spoke to the media after taking a brief tour inside the cathedral church.
The fire apparently started in the attic area between the decorative wooden ceiling and the roof, in the transept just west of the altar. Because it was above the ceiling, it was also above the fire sprinkler system.
Reports on Feb. 5 indicated that investigators were looking at a de-icing system that had been repaired the week before, but no definitive cause was named.
“The cathedral looks intact,” the cardinal said, explaining what he saw when he went inside. “Until you see the icicles on the pews and the water on the floor and the water coming out of the electrical installations.”
Later in the day, the heat and lights were on as workers mopped and vacuumed the water on the main floor and pumped water out of the lower level. Plaster had fallen from an area above one pillar, paint high on the walls was bubbled and peeling and a tapestry “IHS” in the ceiling where the transept crosses the nave was waterlogged as water continued to drip onto the pews and floor.
The five galeros — red hats belonging the former cardinal archbishops of Chicago — still hung over the altar, but all movable items were taken out of the sanctuary.
Mayall, who on Feb. 5 called on Chicagoans of all faiths to pitch in to help fix the structure, said it will take time for the damage to be repaired.
The cathedral was in the midst of a $10 million capital campaign to repair and renovate its facilities. But money from that campaign could not be used to pay for repairs to the ceiling and roof structure that closed the cathedral from February to the end of August last year.
In a January bulletin, Mayall said work on the ceiling had cost more than $4 million. He has no estimate for how much the fire damage will cost to fix, or how much insurance will cover.
According to Mayall, a worker arriving after 5 a.m. reported the fire, setting off alarms in the building. The 11 priests who live there were evacuated as a precaution, Mayall said.
Father Matt Compton, an associate pastor, with the help of Father Tom Mulcrone, the fire department chaplain, was able to enter the sanctuary and remove the Blessed Sacrament from the tabernacle for safekeeping. It was taken to the chapel of Casa Jesus, a formation seminary for Hispanic young men on the cathedral grounds.
Firefighters were able to save the building by pouring water on the roof from hook-and-ladder trucks while others crawled along narrow planks in the attic, fighting the fire from inside the roof.
Weaver said she learned of the fire when a friend sent her a text message at about 6 a.m., and she turned on the television and saw the pictures.
“I cried,” she said. “Last year, we felt like we were in exile all summer.”
Printed with permission from Catholic New World, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Chicago.