March 1, 2012
On January 3, 2012, the Herald News published a letter to the editor entitled “Diocese Should End Neglect of Cathedral.” The North Haledon resident who took pen to paper and sent his thoughts to the press certainly values the importance of our cathedral. We share with him - and with many others - the desire to see the cathedral repaired and reopened.
However, one can only wonder why there was no inquiry made to the diocese about our efforts to address the situation. Instead, the letter writer judged it more expeditious to say publicly that “the diocese has yet to address the problem.” Far from the truth!
Ever since ceiling tiles began to crash down on the pews and floor, the diocese has been very much engaged in assessing the situation of our cathedral. Immediately on discovering that parts of the ceiling were falling down, the diocese hired an engineering firm to inspect the ceiling. Once informed that it was no longer safe to keep the cathedral open because of the imminent danger of more ceiling tiles falling, the cathedral was closed and further inspections were made.
In order to assist the diocese in arriving at a comprehensive understanding of the present condition of the cathedral, various architectural firms have brought in their own engineers and contractors to conduct many on-site investigations. Their findings have sounded the alarm to the extensive repairs needed to the entirety of the building.
The plaster ceiling tiles have been falling because there is a structural failure of the keys which tie the plaster finish to the lath. This structural failure is due to flexibility and excessive movement within the ceiling framing system. The very roof structure itself shows signs of the deterioration caused by excessive stress and movement. In fact, one engineer was inspecting the roof and ceiling just as the August 23, 2011 earthquake hit the East Coast. He witnessed noticeable movement in the structure of the cathedral. Thus, the cathedral structure itself needs to be made secure before the ceiling or roof can be properly repaired with lasting results.
As inspections are being carried out, more and more information is being made available to the diocese. Emergency egress and handicap accessibility need updating. Windows need repair because of moisture penetration. Electricity and lighting need to be upgraded to be more efficient and cost-effective. Adequate restrooms need to be provided. The masonry in the cathedral’s façade needs work. The cathedral’s floor needs repair. The choir loft needs to be made structurally sound and safe.
In the January 3
rd letter to the editor, the writer stated, “The cathedral's location at the intersection of Main and Grand streets in Paterson may be the reason why nothing is being done to rectify the situation.” Hardly an accurate assessment of all that is being done! Our cathedral rightly deserves careful inspection and well-planned restoration for no less than three reasons.
First, St. John the Baptist Cathedral is the home of a vibrant bilingual community. Masses are crowded. Missions well attended. The sacraments received by many. Located in the heart of the city and surrounded by many Catholic agencies assisting the poor and the needy, the cathedral gives visible witness to the faith that leads to compassion and the service of many.
Second, the cathedral, whose impressive tower marks the skyline of Paterson, is an historic and artistic gem worth treasuring. Ferdinand Stuflesser, a world famous artist from Ortisei, Italy, carved the statues of Saint Peter and Saint Paul on each side of the sanctuary. The
DePrato Rigali firm originating from Florence, Italy, produced the Stations of the Cross. The Tyrol Art Glass Company of Innsbruck, Austria, made for our cathedral the most beautiful stained-glass windows in the entire diocese.
Third, as our cathedral, St. John the Baptist is the mother church of the entire diocese. It contains the
cathedra or the chair of the bishop. From ancient times, the chair has symbolized the role of the bishop as teacher. Thus, the cathedral is the place of the bishop’s teaching, presiding in liturgy and governing or shepherding his church. Some even go as far as to say that the cathedral is
the church of the diocese and all others are as chapels in relation to it. The cathedral represents the unity of the whole diocese as the Church of Paterson. We should, therefore, have a rightful pride in its beauty as visibly representing the beauty of the entire Church of Paterson.
We join with the writer of the January 3
rd letter to the editor in looking forward to the reopening of so important, so historic, so artistic, and so active a church. Yet, we know that, as it took a quarter of a century to build our cathedral, time is now needed to restore it properly. It will take commitment to excellence, patience in our work and collaboration in our efforts. A quick solution in a situation that requires much study and planning can lead to problems down the road and an inevitable waste of valuable resources. The fastest fix is not the best fix. In our day, so accustomed to Internet, Twitter, cell phones and Facebook, we expect results immediately. But, works of beauty require much time. After all, Rome was not built in a day. Neither can nor should our cathedral be rushed in its restoration. It deserves better.