May 28, 2009 A 161-year old lady, an integral part of the island's spiritual and cultural heritage, was honored Thursday morning as the local Catholic Church hierarchy announced the second phase of renovations for Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral on lower Kronprindsens Gade.
A cross-section of the community — business leaders, government officers, and parishioners along with Gov. John deJongh Jr. — gathered with the media for a press conference to discuss the project.
After an opening prayer and welcome, Rev. Neil Scantlebury, rector of the cathedral, introduced Bishop Herbert A. Bevard, who spoke of the church with eloquence and affection.
"Our Cathedral was built 161 years ago," he said. "Since then, she has weathered many a storm. She has seen floods, hurricanes and earthquakes come and go, and today she stands proud. Although she may be a pillar of strength, she is nevertheless an old lady and she need to be repaired, renewed and renovated."
The first phase, started in 2001 and now complete, included architectural studies, fundraising and gathering construction documents.
Phase two, Bevard said, includes the construction of a new roof and repair and strengthening of the columns which support it. The structure will be made watertight, not only from the top down, but from the bottom up, addressing the problem of groundwater.
Parishioners, many of whose families have been baptized, christened, married, and ultimately, eulogized in the structure, listened intently as Bevard mentioned anything concerning the cathedral ceiling which depicts 12 scenes from the Old and New Testaments, and several smaller vignettes.
"The artistry of the ceiling alone," Bevard said, "places this building in the royal family of local art and beauty, and, as such, must be preserved."
Calling the cathedral the "mother church, the heart of the Catholic Church in the Virgin Islands," and noting the church's civic importance in the community, Bevard announced two new additions to the church's presence in the west end of town. He said a nearby building that housed a family pharmacy in years past has been donated to the church and will become a chapel of the Perpetual Adoration dedicated to Our Lord, under the title of Divine Mercy and to St. Theresa, the Flower of Jesus.
Further down main street, Bevard said, the church has been given another building by Bernard MacIlhenny, which will become a soup kitchen under the Catholic Charities program.
"The cathedral really does form an anchor for Savan and the west end of this town," Bevard said. "No one who loves Charlotte Amalie can be indifferent to the significance of our presence. We look to the government to support our efforts to keep this area of Savan a place of safety, a place of beauty, and a place of which we can all be proud."
Bevard said phase three will involve electrical components lighting, air conditioning and sound system necessary for total renewal of the building, including liturgical and artistic issues. He assured the audience, "We have no plans to drastically change the appearance of the interior of the cathedral; it is our intention, rather, to restore it to its beauty."
While noting the significance of the ongoing renovation efforts and the importance of the church in the community, the governor shared a bit of his personal history, specifically with the adjoining Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School. "I remember when I went to school here," deJongh said, "and I remember being an alter boy and a crossing guard." With a laugh, he said, "That was my first taste of authority."
Bevard introduced Louis Gomez, who has volunteered his services as project manager of phase two construction. Noting the building's history and place in the community, Gomez said he is " "honored" to take on the construction responsibilities. He said he is eager to start, but work will not begin until the end of the hurricane season, which begins next week and ends in November.
In a question and answer session after the conference, the audience expressed a number of concerns, including where the congregation will meet during the roof renovations.
Bevard said other churches, such as St. Anne's Chapel in Frenchtown, could accommodate some masses. He said the adjoining school could be used for weekday masses.
He estimated the cost of phase two at about $1.5 million, with the total cost about $3 million.
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