After a renovation that took two years and $34 million, the downtown Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament will officially open this weekend. "Every great city worth its salt has a first-class cathedral," said the Rev. James Murphy, the cathedral rector, "and now Sacramento has one."
Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

A crucifix, suspended by airplane cables, hang below the cathedral's newly opened dome. The dome has been closed since the cathedral was remodeled in the 1930s. 
Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench


Cathedral to unveil shiny new face 
By Jennifer Garza -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PST Thursday, November 17, 2005
Story appeared on Page A1 of The Bee
Related link: Audio slideshow
Copyright The Sacramento Bee
The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, the heart of the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, has been shrouded. Its dome obscured for seven decades, its windows clouded by incense smoke, its pews in shadows. And, for more than two years, it has been hidden in renovation.

At 3 p.m. Sunday, the shroud will be lifted in one of the most elaborate religious services ever planned for Sacramento. The church doors will officially open, revealing a $34 million transformation to a light and airy space where worshippers can find comfort and sanctuary.

From the retrofitted roof to the expanded pews, every aspect of the 116-year-old downtown cathedral has been updated, sometimes amid controversy. It is the most expensive church renovation in Sacramento history.

"Every great city worth its salt has a first-class cathedral, and now Sacramento has one," said the Rev. James Murphy, rector of the cathedral.

There are significant additions, including a chapel inside the church and a 2,000-pound crucifix hanging over the altar supported by airplane cables. But the biggest change is the dome, which was closed in the 1930s.

For the first time in more than 70 years, worshippers will be able to look up and see the interior of the dome.

"Our goal was for people to walk in and see the cathedral as it was originally intended, as if they stepped back in time," said Harry Hallenbeck, the supervising architect of the renovation.

Among the first to see the renovated cathedral will be more than 1,200 invitation-only guests.

Church and civic leaders, project workers and more than 100 priests and 20 bishops from across the country will participate in Sunday's special Mass, called the Rite of Dedication.

Bishop William Skylstad, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, will deliver the homily.

The service begins when Bishop William K. Weigand, spiritual leader of the Sacramento diocese, and other church leaders walk through the front doors as worshippers sing "Let us go rejoicing to the House of the Lord," from Psalm 122.

The ceremony "baptizes" the cathedral from a work space to a holy space and will take nearly three hours.

Tickets are no longer available.

"People want to be there to see the new cathedral, of course. But they also want to be there to see the anointing of the church," said Jackson Schoos, the director of the office of worship for the Sacramento diocese.

Parishioners who have seen the cathedral are impressed. "It's beautiful. I think people are going to be amazed by the detail that went into it," said Donald Haven, who has been a member of the cathedral for more than 40 years. "It is worth the wait."

The architectural style of the church is Italian Renaissance on the exterior and Victorian on the interior, according to Hallenbeck. The church has been updated for modern use, but designers tried to keep the church in the original style.

The walls have been painted salmon, and the carpet has been removed. New artwork - including a mural of Our Lady of Guadalupe - has been installed. A new baptismal font has been placed at the front of the church. The stained glass has been cleaned.

"Everything is in harmony," Hallenbeck said.

The cathedral is considered both a religious and civic landmark. It is the mother church of the diocese, which stretches from the southern edge of Sacramento County north to the Oregon border and serves more than 500,000 Catholics.

A five-minute walk from the state Capitol, the cathedral has been the site of many community events over the years. It served as a "drop-in" center for soldiers during two world wars, and governors have held their inauguration worship services there. Funerals for civic leaders from Maureen Reagan to Mayor Joe Serna were held at the cathedral.

While the renovated cathedral has been praised by many who have seen it, the cost of the restoration has been criticized.

The original projected cost was less than $20 million, but, according to church officials, an increase in construction costs and unexpected delays caused that price tag to jump.

The money for the restoration came from a variety of sources. Ten million dollars came from the 2002 diocese-wide Capital Campaign, another $10 million from diocesan investments and an additional $2 million from cathedral parishioners. Diocesan officials are conducting a drive for the remaining $12 million.

Some say the church spent too much, especially given recent financial cutbacks by the diocese.

In March, diocesan officials closed St. Peter's Elementary School, merging it with All Hallows. In June, diocesan officials agreed to pay $35 million to settle 33 claims of clergy sexual abuse. To help pay for that settlement, diocesan officials agreed in September to sell Lakeview Village Mobile Home Park in Citrus Heights, angering many of the elderly residents.

"People are dismayed that they would spend this kind of money on a building while people here are wondering about where they're going to live," said resident Toni Rehage. "Shame on them."

But church officials say the money for the cathedral restoration came from different funds. "The money for the project was committed five years ago," Murphy said.

Supporters say the money was well spent and the cathedral will be an asset for the city and future generations.

Linda Sanchez, 80, was baptized in the church. Next week, she and her husband, Martin, who were married in a courthouse 50 years ago, will marry in the renovated cathedral. It will be a double wedding, with their granddaughter and her future husband.

The cathedral has "been important to our family," said Sanchez, "and I like knowing that it will be there for my children and grandchildren."


Related link: Audio slideshow


The celebration for the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament will last two days, and demand for tickets is high. Tickets for Sunday's afternoon Mass and a 7 p.m. Mass for cathedral parishioners are no longer available.

The public is welcome to attend the 11 a.m. Monday Mass, honoring Bishop William K. Weigand's 25 years as a bishop, and a 5:30 p.m. Mass for public officials and interfaith leaders. Cardinal Roger Mahoney, archbishop of Los Angeles, will deliver the homily. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, are expected to attend.