A Towering Restoration Project begins in Providence

Critical repair work begins to secure the historic towers of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral


PROVIDENCE — Four months after the staging surrounding the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul was taken down following the completion of a nine-month, $4.5 million project to replace the entire roof of the 131-year-old spiritual seat of the Diocese of Providence, the staging has reappeared. This time around its iconic towers.
For about the next seven months, contractors will focus their efforts to repair deterioration detected in the stones and structure of the towers in a project expected to cost about $9 million.
“In assessing the problems of the roof, we discovered the issue of the towers,” Msgr. Anthony Mancini, rector of the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, told Rhode Island Catholic.
“When we started the roof project the architects had sent drones up, and had gone up there themselves, and they noticed the deterioration in the tower, both internally and externally. The brownstone was starting to chip. At that time, it became apparent that the deterioration from weather and age on the stone and the mortar was far more significant than we realized.”
Msgr. Raymond Bastia, Vicar of Finance for the Diocese of Providence, said that the diocese has been aware for a while that there was some deterioration to the soft brownstone on the face of the cathedral, especially in the area of the towers. That is why, as a temporary safety measure, a canopy was erected over the doors several years ago.
“We felt it was controlled with that canopy, which we monitored frequently to see whether or not there was any significant activity in terms of the deterioration,” he said, noting how barriers had also been installed around the sides of the cathedral to keep pedestrians a greater distance away while walking along the perimeter.
“We did not know the extent of the issue until we got involved in the roof project.”
Consigli Construction and DBVW Architects, the same contractors that oversaw the cathedral roof replacement project, recently began work on the stone repair after taking a few weeks to mobilize the massive staging.
Three different techniques will be involved in the stonework repair part of the project.
For stones that need to be replaced outright, a regional quarry has been identified with a vein of brownstone similar to the type used in the original construction.
Other stones may be repaired by scaling them back, while a third technique involves what is known as a Dutchman repair, in which deeply eroded existing stone is cut back and a new face added to level it off.
Sean Brennan, diocesan director of Facilities, said hundreds of stones used in the original construction will have to be removed and analyzed.
He said the extensive project will also involve examining the mortar and masonry of the towers, checking on the integrity of their timber framework and replacing any loose bricks lining the inside as well.
“We have brick that is degrading and will need to be replaced,” Brennan said.
A 50-year-old air conditioning compressor unit, housed in the north cathedral tower, as well as the air handler that conveys the cooled air into the cathedral, will need to be replaced. The south towers hold the cathedral’s four massive bells. The replacement of roof drains, coverings for both towers and some painting are also part of the project.
Msgr. Bastia said that when the analysis on the state of the towers was received from the architect a committee was formed to examine all options, including the demolition of the towers.
“However, when preliminary estimates came in, since the towers would have to be literally disassembled by hand, it became apparent the better decision would be, for slightly higher dollars, to repair them,” he said.
“We followed our due diligence and had plans drawn for the repair. There is no option not to repair them.”
The vicar said that to cover the expected $9 million cost of the project, surplus revenue from the unused contingency allowance from the roof repair will be applied to help defray the cost, as well as the proceeds from the sale of a number of non-ministerial diocesan properties currently on the market. Also, a bequest to the Cathedral from a lay individual will be used to help cover expenses, and grants are being sought that may provide some additional assistance.
“Quite frankly, though, we’re probably still going to be short,” Msgr. Bastia said.
“For this, we would welcome any individuals who might be well disposed and who have an affection and a respect for the cathedral as the seat church of the diocese who might be able to assist. We would be very grateful for that. Barring that, we may have to borrow money to complete the project.”
Msgr. Mancini, the cathedral’s rector, said it is fitting that all this work to repair and renew the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul is taking place during the year the diocese will begin to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Diocese of Providence.
The anniversary year celebration will open with Vespers in the cathedral on September 8, the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lady, and will close with a glorious Mass On June 26, 2022, one to which all the New England Bishops, as well as the Papal Nuncio to the U.S., have been invited.
“This building requires constant preservation. We’re doing well here and we just have to keep up with it.”
Msgr. Bastia agrees.
“It’s a beautiful building,” he said. “It has great artistic significance, as well as its religious significance, and history for our diocese. But we realize that as long as we own this building, it will need some repair.”