PROVIDENCE — Just in time to mark the 150th anniversary of the Diocese of Providence, the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul has emerged from recent major renovations strengthened, reinvigorated and ready for the journey to the diocese’s next milestone anniversary.
The remaining scaffolding that has encircled the cathedral since June 2021 has been removed in recent days as the $9.5 million project to repair deterioration wrought by the ravages of time and weather upon the 133-year-old cathedral’s signature sandstone façade has drawn to a close.
About 800 loose, cracked or deteriorated tower stones were replaced with newly quarried ones, according to Eric Barbosa, the on-site supervisor for Consigli Construction, the general contractor for the project. The mortar and masonry binding the stones and the integrity of the towers’ timber framing were also examined and replaced when necessary.
In addition, the cathedral’s 50-year-old air conditioning unit, housed in its east tower, was replaced given the unfettered access the restoration project afforded to the existing unit. The air handler that conveys the cooled air into the cathedral, coverings for both towers and roof drains were also replaced or repaired.
Although diocesan officials were aware that some restoration work on the towers would be required at some point, they had not planned to embark on such a major project this soon, especially on the heels of a nine-month, $4.5 million project to replace the entire roof of the 132-year-old spiritual seat of the Diocese of Providence. That project had only wrapped up less than four months earlier. But it was during the roof replacement that Providence-based DBVW Architects identified vulnerabilities in the structural integrity of the towers.
“We had hoped that we might have a little more time before starting the repair of the towers and the façade of the building. However, when the architectural and engineering reports were completed, the need to start as soon as possible became obvious,” said Rev. Monsignor Raymond B. Bastia, diocesan vicar of Planning and Finance. “We had no choice but to move ahead.”
He said that although it posed a financial challenge, the restoration has produced a “safe, beautifully renewed and welcoming façade for the mother church of our Diocese of Providence.”
“Consigli Construction and DBVW Architects knew where we were coming from, they knew our budget and they worked to try to meet it and keep within it,” he said.
While the roof replacement was paid for in part through contributions to Bishop Thomas J. Tobin’s Grateful for God’s Providence diocesan capital campaign, along with donations and bequests from cathedral parishioners, the $9.5 million towers project is funded through the sale of non-ministry related properties, a brick sponsorship fundraising program and some very generous donations and grants.
Diocesan CFO Michael F. Sabatino said he is very pleased with the quality of the recent restoration work on the cathedral.
“We’re thrilled with both projects and with both DBVW Architects and Consigli Construction,” he said, noting that union laborers were utilized. “Consigli was our construction manager and they did a great job. They were very attentive.”
Prior to 1968, the cathedral had never undergone a major renovation. Normal maintenance had kept it intact, and the building survived several hurricanes over the years. The only major face-lifting on record was interior painting done in 1921.
But in 1968, the late Bishop Russell J. McVinney, in anticipation of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the diocese in 1972, initiated a massive renovation program under the direction of Rev. Monsignor William J. Carey, the cathedral rector.
The process took more than three years to complete and included both exterior and interior renovations. Like the current towers project, scaffolding surrounded the entire cathedral 50-years ago as its sandstone face was repaired or replaced.
Inside, renovations focused in large measure on preparing the worship space for the liturgical reforms promulgated by the Second Vatican Council, including extending the sanctuary and moving the altar to face the people. New pews and lighting, along with a new organ costing $250,000, were also installed.
The next set of renovations was completed in 2013, in which a cross aisle was installed to help the flow of people in line to receive Holy Communion, flooring and pew kneelers were replaced and organ pipes were repaired. On the exterior, $200,000 was spent to reglaze and protect the cathedral’s magnificent rose windows — constructed in Munich — and the tower clock was restarted and synchronized to the chiming bells within.
With the major renovations of the past year completed, no additional cathedral renovations are planned at this time.
“It was an exciting and rewarding opportunity to take part in the historic roof replacement and tower restoration,” Consigli Project Executive John Lehane told Rhode Island Catholic. “Like any construction project, the success was due to great teamwork with both the diocese and DBVW Architects. Our team was proud to be part of such significant preservations and long-term enhancements to the cathedral.”