PROVIDENCE — It could be said that the Diocese of Providence certainly got its money’s worth when the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul was completed and consecrated in 1889.
The formidable Maine slate roof that caps one of the nation’s most grand houses of worship has, for the most part, withstood the test of time over the last 131 years — although increasing amounts of patchwork have been needed to sustain it — and the years are taking their toll.
Thanks to generous support from parishioners across the diocese who are contributing to Bishop Thomas J. Tobin’s Grateful for God’s Providence capital campaign — which has an allocation to help cover improvements to the cathedral — as well as donations from parishioners for its upkeep, the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul is able to undertake its most significant renovation since 2012-2013.
Currently running at about $4.5 million, although it is budgeted for up to $5 million, the project will see the entire slate roof replaced. Improvements along the roof line are also planned, including work on the gutters, valleys, copper flashing and some stonework around the perimeter of the building.
“We’re very grateful to be able to do this,” said Msgr. Anthony Mancini, rector of the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul.
“We’re very grateful to God and very grateful to our people who are so generous, including a large bequest from a parishioner. Without them we wouldn’t be able to do this. We can do the job well, do the whole roof and do it with very good material. It protects that beautiful interior. It’s a magnificent cathedral.”
Over the last three weeks, scaffolding has been erected around the west side of the cathedral, and a materials laydown area has been created out of a portion of the chancery’s guest parking lot in order to ensure compliance with city sidewalk permits and requirements. Construction fencing is being added to provide a buffer zone for safety. As the project progresses, the scaffolding will be taken down and reassembled until all sides of the building have been serviced.
“That staging is going to move around the building so they can work from front to back over the course of the next nine months,” said Diocesan Director of Facilities Sean Brennan.
“There should be no problems with access. The area is open to the public. There will be equipment moving from time to time and people may have to wait a little for it to pass by.”
Brennan said that while the roof patches have served their purpose over the years, the risk of damage to the cathedral’s wooden ceiling and the beautiful artworks painted on them, along with its magnificent Munich stained glass windows, increases whenever a leak develops in the roof.
“The only way to fix this is the replacement of the roof,” Brennan said.
Although the quarry in Maine that served as the source of the original slate roof tiles is no longer in operation, the contractors will be using a similarly durable and appealing Vermont slate which is available.
“The slate we’re going with is called Vermont Black. It’s pretty close to the consistency of the original one, and we expect it to last in excess of 100 years, like the current roof. It’s a very cost-effective slate compared to some other products we surveyed,” Brennan noted of the slate, which, despite its name, is a dark, grey-green in color.
Before the tiles in each quadrant can be stripped and replaced, a highly specialized asbestos abatement program will first be implemented to ensure that any asbestos encapsulated in the mastic, which is similar to caulk — and has been used through the decades to repair sections of the roof where leaks have formed — is safely removed according to strict state health guidelines.
“Rhode Island regulations on asbestos abatement are very strict and for a good reason,” Brennan said, noting that Emory Environmental is providing details on the asbestos plan for the contractor to work with and they’re working according to their estimated timeline so far.
“Asbestos removal involves bagging and tagging everything. It’s a very involved process,” he said.
Consigli Construction, with offices in Massachusetts, is responsible for overall project management, and Providence-based DBVW, with assistance from O’Day Engineering, is serving as the architectural firm. Additionally, Providence-based Grande Masonry, Apollo Roofing are also working on the project.
“It is very nice that we’re having local contractors and engineering firms,” Brennan said.
The last major renovation to the cathedral occurred from 2012-13, to prepare for its 125th anniversary in 2014.
At that time the pews were refreshed, with some being removed to create a seating area for the handicapped along with a cross aisle to improve the flow of movement during Communion. New interior LED lighting was also installed, illuminating fully the cathedral’s ornate ceiling for the first time in decades. On the outside, stone masonry work was done to reinforce the cathedral’s signature large rose windows.
In 2015-2016 the vinyl tile floor of the cathedral’s hall, on the lower level, was replaced with a vinyl planking floor that has the appearance of wood and is easier to maintain.
Msgr. Mancini said that while additional renovations will be needed in the future to address deterioration in the cathedral’s towers, the current project is expected to begin addressing some initial aspects of that work.
“We’re going to begin some work on the towers,” he said. “The stones are falling out and the interior needs to be done.”