The woman was waiting on the sidewalk outside the Cathedral of St. Joseph when her husband pulled the car up.
He stepped out, helped her into the car, folded the wheelchair, lifted it into the trunk, drove around to the entrance of the downstairs Undercroft and reversed the process just in time for the reception to begin.
Next time they attend a wedding, ordination or funeral in the Cathedral, they’ll simply take the elevator down to the Undercroft.
That’s one of many ways the Cathedral will be more welcoming and hospitable to parishioners, pilgrims and guests after a yearlong renovation and updating is completed in early 2023.
“You never want anyone to not be able to come to the graces of God because of a physical obstacle,” said Father Louis Nelen, pastor of Cathedral of St. Joseph Parish.
“When you see it from the outside, beginning with the canopy over the front door, you will recognize that this is a sacred space, a place of welcome, a truly Catholic place, and it will be inviting to come in and visit,” he said.
The renewed cathedral will have a substantially larger gathering area — known as a narthex — fronting West Main Street.
The narthex will include additional, larger rest rooms, as will the Undercroft, which is the site of numerous parish and diocesan gatherings.
Accessibility to both levels is being enhanced.
The Undercroft will be made more inviting and useful for large gatherings, including handicapped-accessible doors and a renovated kitchen.
“Plus, it will have a warmer atmosphere,” said Fr. Nelen. “It won’t look like an unfished basement anymore.”
Upstairs, a canopy — known as a porte cochere — will allow people to be dropped off at the front doors while staying dry in any weather.
“This will be especially helpful for funerals,” said Fr. Nelen. “When a hearse pulls up in the rain and you have all of these people standing there with umbrellas, you think about how much nicer and dignified it would be if you had a covered area for them.”
Parishioners and visitors with any degree of hearing loss will rejoice at the installation of a new, improved sound system in the Cathedral. It will be equipped for use with individual assistive listening devices.
Off to the side, a ramp will offer easy access to the sanctuary for priests, deacons and lay ministers who use wheelchairs or have difficulty climbing the stairs.
The renovated Cathedral will be more family-friendly, including a private room for nursing mothers and their babies, and less-disruptive access to rest rooms during Mass.
Fr. Nelen said these and other improvements are an important part of the Cathedral Parish carrying-out its ministries to local parishioners and the people of the whole diocese.
“We want it to be a place where all can come and spend time in the presence of the Lord,” he said.
People of all ages will find it easier to attend Mass or make a prayerful visit to the Cathedral and to make better use of the fellowship area in the Undercroft.
“We are called to minister to everyone,” Fr. Nelen insisted. “Whether young or old, any injuries, disabilities or other limitations should not prevent them from being part of the faith community. This is especially true of those who are in their golden years, who have been pillars of the Church for decades. Through their generosity, they’ve taken care of the church in order to hand it on to the people who come after them, and this is one way we can show our appreciation for them.”
It’s what Jesus would do, the priest stated.
Fr. Nelen added that it’s important for children to see adults coming to Mass and staying active in the life of the Church despite illness and other difficulties.
“You never know who you’re inspiring just by being here,” said Fr. Nelen. “And by working with the diocese to make the Cathedral as welcoming as possible, we are cooperating with God in the work of evangelization.”
Since the Cathedral serves everyone in the diocese, Bishop W. Shawn McKnight welcomes lay Catholics to join their priests and deacons and contribute toward the cost of the renovation, as long as doing so does not reduce their regular, sacrificial support of their own parish.
Bishop McKnight asks for prayers for the health and safety of everyone, especially the laborers, during the renovation project.