A major renovation of the Cathedral of St. Joseph has begun, with hopes for completion and a rededication Mass about a year from now.
Parishioners will worship temporarily in nearby locations while Sircal Contracting Inc. and a group of gifted artisans go about highlighting the building’s striking architecture with timeless art.
“During this year, we vacate this Cathedral structure in order to take care of some needed repairs, to increase our hospitality to visitors and guests, and to manifest more clearly the beauty of our Catholic faith in the various pieces of artwork that are being fashioned by artists near and far away,” Bishop W. Shawn McKnight stated at the end of his homily on Jan. 2, the Solemnity of the Epiphany of Our Lord.
He likened parishioners’ time away from the Cathedral to a shared journey and to “time in the desert.”
He assured them that the completed work will be well worth the wait. Catholics throughout the diocese are invited to participate in a spiritual pilgrimage during the renovation by praying for all involved in the work.
The renewed cathedral will include a substantially larger gathering area — known as a narthex — fronting West Main Street, as well as an outdoor canopy and bell towers.
Symbols of St. Joseph will adorn the front of the canopy.
As was originally intended when the cathedral was built, bells will be placed in both of the towers.
The narthex will include additional, larger rest rooms and an elevator to a renovated downstairs Undercroft, site of numerous parish and diocesan gatherings.
Signature elements of the mid-century Cathedral, including its circular design, geometric windows, Douglas fir beams, crown-shaped roof, terrazzo floor and white travertine marble, will be preserved.
A new altar, tabernacle, ambo, bishop’s chair and proximate baptistery will be created for the reconfigured sanctuary.
New wood paneling and the cross for the new crucifix will be made from regional white oak.
New stained-glass windows will draw more sunlight into the Cathedral. Each will depict scenes from the Old and New Testaments and saints of the Church, united under the theme of Acts of the Apostles 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.”
New sculptures, mosaics, painting, stenciling and colorful stonework will help define other areas of prayer throughout the Cathedral, including shrines devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, St. Isadore the Farmer and his wife, Blessed Maria, and Venerable Father Augustus Tolton, who was born and baptized in northeastern Missouri.
Antique polychromatic Stations of the Cross will be framed with brass and installed in the ambulatory.
A new, custom-designed organ, incorporating parts of the current instrument, will be installed.
“It’s going to be a wonderful space,” said church architect William Heyer, architectural consultant for the project.
He noted that careful planning over the past year is yielding an even more thoughtful use of materials and artwork than conceived in the initial plans for the renovation.
“What’s really exciting is the amount of artwork that’s going to be installed in the Cathedral, something I think people are going to be very surprised and happy about,” said Mr. Heyer.
“Certainly, the new stained glass will be a lot more colorful and brighter than any of us had foreseen,” he said. “The mosaics and marble work are going to be more colorful and intricate.”
Artisans from as far away as Germany and Italy and as near as St. Louis, Kansas City and Chicago will create the artwork.
Mr. Heyer said the purpose of every detail will be to make Christ’s invisible presence more visible.
“This is what we specialize in,” he said, “the celebration in the best way possible of all the efforts that were put forth when this Cathedral was built, while making it more beautiful and more recognizably Catholic.”
A cathedral is a symbol of unity for all Catholics in a diocese. In the Roman Catholic tradition, its name comes from its unique position as the church which houses a chair used only by the diocesan bishop.
Known as a cathedra, this chair is a symbol of the bishop’s responsibility to teach the faith authentically, in union with the pope and with bishops throughout the world.
The Cathedral of St. Joseph was completed in 1968 in a style that has come to be known as Mid-Century Modern.
The renovation will incorporate classical elements into the Cathedral’s familiar structure, enhancing its beauty, functionality, capacity for hospitality and uniquely Catholic identity.
Mr. Heyer worked with Architects Alliance Inc. of Jefferson City on the plans.
“What we’re trying to do is take the building out of the world of style and into the realm of sacred time, into the time of Christ’s sacraments, which are truly timeless,” he said.
He noted that the building’s original architect wanted to create a recessed area at the back of the sanctuary. But that would have been difficult structurally as the entire circular shape of the Cathedral is supported by a steel tensile ring inside the sanctuary wall.
Mr. Heyer revisited the idea while working up initial plans in 2020, only to have structural engineers tell him that keeping the tensile ring intact is essential for holding the building together.
He was determined to press forward and resolved to remove the wall around this steel tensile ring but leave the structural ring intact.
The exposed steel ring beam will now be encased in a wood beam and have the new crucifix mounted on top.
“The symbolism of that struck me immediately,” he said. “Christ is supporting His church. He’s basically saying, ‘Without Me, this all falls apart.’”
That will be one of many striking symbols already built into the architecture that will be revealed or re-emphasized through this renovation.
“It expresses this Cathedral’s uniqueness, something that was not visible before but will be visible now,” Mr. Heyer stated.
Father Louis Nelen, pastor of Cathedral of St. Joseph Parish, said the Cathedral has served the people of the parish and the diocese well for the past 52 years but is now in need of practical and aesthetic updating.
Electrical systems and other utilities are worn out and outdated, as are the lights and sound system. The rest rooms need to be larger and more accessible.
The renovated interior will attract the faithful into deeper communion with God through beauty.
“It will be a blending of modern and traditional,” said Fr. Nelen. “We’re trying to maintain connections to the timeless tradition of the Church while respecting and building upon what we have here.”
In preliminary surveys, many parishioners, especially young parents, said they want inspiring and instructive images surrounding them.
“It goes back to the days of when the faith was taught not just by the spoken word but also through symbols and art,” Fr. Nelen stated.
People passing by on West Main Street will also have a clearer idea of the Cathedral as a place to encounter the Lord through prayer, worship and fellowship.
“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 you will want to come in and visit,” said Fr. Nelen.
The Undercroft will be made more inviting and useful for large gatherings, with easier access to the Cathedral-proper.
Since the Cathedral serves everyone in the diocese, Bishop 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.
Priests and deacons of the diocese are giving sacrificial support.
Priests have pledged over $90,000 toward the cost of the new altar and appointments. Deacons have pledged over $31,000 toward the cost of the new ambo.
Father Stephen Jones, director of stewardship for the diocese, noted that a separate fund for ongoing maintenance will be established after the renovation is completed.
Those who wish to support the cathedral project financially are asked to send their donations to the Chancery or contact the diocesan Director of Development, Mr. Jake Seifert.
A place of blessing
Bishop McKnight and Mr. Heyer worked with a renovation commission composed of Father Louis Nelen, pastor of the Cathedral Parish, Father Daniel Merz, chairman of the Diocesan Liturgical Commission, Father Jeremy Secrist, the bishop’s delegate for pipe organs, and Cathedral of St. Joseph parishioners Julie Malmstrom, Millie Schell and Edith Vogel.
The Diocesan Liturgical Commission reviewed and helped refine the initial renovation proposal, followed by the priests of the diocese during their annual institute last fall.
“In this sacred place, God blesses us as we give Him our worship and praise,” said Bishop McKnight. “Here, we come to worship God, together, as well as in individual devotional prayer.”
The bishop hopes the Cathedral will become a place of frequent pilgrimage for people throughout the diocese.
Mr. Heyer said that his prayer for this project has always been “that God will bring this to a beautiful end, that the details will be right, that the building will be built strong, that it will last many generations to increase the faith of the people.”
Bishop McKnight asks everyone to pray for the health and safety of everyone, especially the laborers, during the renovation project.
He said he hopes people throughout the diocese will consider making a pilgrimage to the Cathedral after its rededication next year.