Help the cathedral serve as sacred space for future generations

Father John A. Kiley

The Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul in Providence was brought into line with the liturgical directives of Vatican II by Bishop Russell J. McVinney in 1970-71. During the extensive renovation, as well as some restoration, a friend peeked into the building to glimpse the renewal of the diocese’s central church. He noted that much of the ornate backdrop to the former main altar had been removed and that a “spaceship” had been mounted over a new altar installed to facilitate the New Order of Mass. Worshippers at the cathedral today can be grateful that while some of the ornate filigree had been removed from the 1889 sanctuary enough remains to insure a sense of grandeur and gravitas. A crucified Christ is suspended prominently against the rear wall and gilded archangels still guard the sanctuary. The “cathedra,” the bishop’s presiding chair, is now centrally positioned on the top step before this notable background.

The “spaceship” of course is the illuminated rounded framework that not only brightens the current altar of sacrifice, amply drawing the congregation’s attention to the main action of the Mass, but also seems to draw a circle above the area of sacrifice for added emphasis. Like many cathedrals and major churches, the tabernacle has been located within a very visible side sanctuary balanced on the opposite side by the church’s baptistery. A Casavant organ, huge to the eye and colossal to the ear, occupies a full wall alongside the sanctuary. At the time of this renewal, artists and craftsmen, some called out of retirement, refreshed the oil paintings, the gilded ornamentation, the wooden garnishing and plaster adornment that make the entire building a fitting place of worship. As founding Bishop Thomas Hendricken had done, Bishop McVinney also sadly died before the completion of his renewal and was buried from his childhood parish of the Blessed Sacrament. His courage and discrimination in endorsing this rejuvenation are commendable.

After the past 40 years of rites and ceremonies, Msgr. Anthony Mancini and the cathedral’s advisors determined a couple of years ago that some added renewal was required in the nave of the church. Stained glass windows needed to be re-leaded at their many joints and sealed on the exterior against the New England weather. Most notable was the refreshed lighting throughout the entire church. Not only may the worshippers read their hymnals more easily but the true glory of the cathedral’s vast ceiling, with its wooden hue softened by gilt edging, is stunning. One’s heart and mind are truly raised to God by the brilliance overhead. The cathedral’s own worshippers, drawn from many parts of the state, funded much of this interior and exterior transformation.

The Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul has nobly and decorously enhanced the celebration of all the sacraments from baptisms to Episcopal consecrations. In five years, 2022, the Diocese of Providence will be 150 years old. Since 1889, the cathedral has been witness to these years. Although Interstates 95 and 195 put an end to Haywood Park and much of the old cathedral territory, the cathedral family has experienced a recent revival. Somewhat taking the place of Page Street Franciscan Chapel, the cathedral offers a daily Mass at 12:05 p.m., which a good number of downtown workers attend, and weekend Masses on Saturday at 5 p.m. and Sunday at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Confessions are heard before most Masses (I recently offered a 1 p.m. Sunday Mass at the cathedral which was quite well attended and heard confessions for a solid 45 minutes before Mass). Now, once again, the cathedral needs the assistance of all of its many diocesan children.

Over the next two years, a major capital campaign, “Grateful for God’s Providence,” will be conducted throughout the Diocese of Providence. One of its five important goals is the renewal of the exterior of the cathedral. The sandstone exterior of the cathedral might add dignity and stateliness to the church’s appearance, but it is not the most endurable of rocks. Chipping and peeling are becoming more apparent. The cathedral also sports its original roof — one that is 128 years old! These ancient tiles and shingles are in sore need of replacement. The generous contributions of corporations, parishioners, clergy and friends of the diocese are obviously needed. Please do not be bashful in responding to the request for a pledge to be made through your own parish church. The Diocese of Providence is fortunate to have its original cathedral — as Hartford and Burlington have lost theirs through fires. Let’s make sure succeeding generations get to enjoy the “spaceship” and all the cathedral’s fine features.