Catholic Diocese of Raleigh unveils scaled-back cathedral plan

rstradling@newsobserver.comMay 6, 2014 

— Catholic Bishop Michael Burbidge unveiled a scaled-back plan for a new cathedral in West Raleigh on Tuesday, saying the changes reflect feedback from parishioners and the diocese’s ability to raise money.

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, the mother church for the 54-county diocese, will cost about $41 million, compared to an estimated $75 million to $90 million that church officials proposed for the cathedral campus in 2011. Burbidge has long said that the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh would build the cathedral that “God’s people will let us build,” and fundraising indicated that people didn’t want to spend that much.

“We showed what an entire campus would look like,” Burbidge said. “This is more in line with the funds that people have stepped up to give to us.”

Burbidge said the diocese has raised about 75 percent of what it needs to build the cathedral on 39 acres it owns off Western Boulevard. It hopes to break ground in December, he said, and the building should take about two years to complete.

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral will replace Sacred Heart Cathedral in downtown Raleigh, which with a capacity of about 300 is the second-smallest cathedral in the country after Juneau, Alaska, according to Burbidge. When the diocese first announced plans for the new cathedral, it presented artist renderings of a 2,000-seat building with a large bell tower, an adjacent gathering hall and a three-story parking deck, designed by architect James McCrery of Washington.

The new plans come from another architect, James O’Brien of O’Brien and Keane in Arlington, Va., the firm that designed St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Wake Forest.

The cathedral will still seat about 2,000 people, but the bell tower is shorter and the gathering hall and the parking deck are gone. A planned basement, or crypt, has also been eliminated.

Cost was something Burbidge and other church officials heard as they sought feedback to the original plan at about 400 meetings across the diocese. Henry Zaytoun Jr. of Raleigh, co-chairman of the diocese cathedral committee, said there was some sticker shock among parishioners.

“The first proposal was more of a great vision of what this campus might be,” said Zaytoun. “When we started assessing, we found that we probably needed to have a new direction.”

‘A big church’

At the same time, Burbidge said, people liked the size of the original building, as the home church of a growing diocese. There are about 214,000 registered Catholics in Eastern North Carolina, and the number of Catholics in the region is expected to double in less than 20 years, Burbidge said.

“The biggest thing we heard was that people understand that this needs to be a big church,” he said.

Still, people weren’t pleased by the distance between the altar and the rear rows of the cathedral. The new design moved more seats into the wings – 500 on each side – moving the back row in the nave about 50 to 60 feet closer, Zaytoun said.

The diocese hopes to create a beautiful, timeless church, Burbidge said. The building is more cross-shaped than the earlier design, with a more prominent dome that will rise above the treeline. As before, the new design incorporates old stained-glass windows and stations of the cross salvaged from churches in Philadelphia, where a shrinking Catholic population has forced numerous old parish churches to close.

The building will host several worship services every Sunday, as well as special events, such as concerts and lectures. Sacred Heart Church downtown will remain, used for daily masses, weddings and other special events. The adjacent Sacred Heart School may move to the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral campus at some point, but that decision – and the fundraising – will be up to the parish, Burbidge said.

‘A great blessing’

He said it’s important that the Catholic Church maintain a downtown presence for its outreach programs for the poor and others in need.

Zaytoun said his parents grew up Catholic in Eastern North Carolina at a time when parishioners from the entire diocese would have fit inside the PNC Arena. To see the church grow to the point where it can contemplate building such a cathedral is exciting, he said.

“We think of this as a great blessing and an honor to be part of something like this,” he said.

Stradling: 919-829-4739

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