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Renovated cathedral in downtown Wichita keeps its classic grandeur

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, at 7:07 a.m.
  • Updated Monday, April 8, 2013, at 9:37 p.m.

The historic building at Central and Broadway in downtown Wichita is safer, brighter, more accessible and more user-friendly.

But after its 18-month, $17 million renovation, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception still has the look and feel of a century-old structure.

“It’s really more of a preservation,” Monsignor Robert Hemberger said Friday. “The original architect would be very proud of what has become of his original concept. It is faithful to the integrity of original design “

The cathedral, the centerpiece of the Wichita Catholic Diocese, will reopen today with a 10 a.m. invitation-only Mass. The regular schedule will start with a Mass at 5 p.m. followed by a Spanish Mass at 7 p.m. The daily Mass schedule starts Monday at 8 a.m. and noon.

People who have been inside the cathedral marvel at it, Hemberger said.

“The word that comes to most people is ‘solemn,’ ” he said. “It’s awe-inspiring. They’re just so surprised to walk in and see something of such classic magnificence right here in downtown Wichita.”

The renovation was part of the church’s "Together Vision," aimed at bringing a sense of unity to the 90-parish Diocese. It also raised funds for the Diocese’s seminarian education endowment and the St. Katharine Drexel Catholic School Fund, which helps financially struggling parishes.

The total goal is $37 million for all three projects. A fundraising drive has netted $27 million so far, Hemberger said.

The cathedral renovation was extensive. The facility was showing its age before work began in June 2011. Water damage had crept into the walls, lighting was dim, paint needed refreshing, and there was no accessibility for the handicapped.

Mechanical and electrical systems are more efficient now, lighting has been improved, and a sprinkler system has been added on all levels of the building.

The sightlines between the pillars also have been improved for those attending services. The altar and the decorative arch behind the altar were extended six feet, and the ambo – or pulpit – was moved forward beside one of the pillars to bring the person reciting the readings, proclaiming the gospel, or the priest delivering his homily closer to the congregation.

Access to the choir loft has been improved with two different approaches, including an elevator.

Artwork has restored color to niches, arches, walls and the dome.

“The artwork turned out better than we expected,” Hemberger said..

Decorative painting was done by artists from Chicago and New York. The sculptor came from near Portland, Ore. Stonework was done by people from Virginia, and lighting was done by people from New York, he said.

All the buildings on the campus are connected by a new covered structure, which serves as a gathering space before and after Mass. The gathering space offers a bride’s room, bathrooms, an elevator and a wall depicting the 125-year history of the diocese in tile.

The three-story St. Joseph Pastoral Center on the east side of the campus, a former high school building, has been renovated to house the offices of Catholic Charities, the diocesan Office of Hispanic Ministry and parish offices..

Today’s 10 a.m. Mass will be live-streamed on the diocesan website, catholicdioceseofwichita.org. A taped broadcast of the Mass will be aired on Cox 22 beginning at 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

Pilgrimages to the cathedral will be available across the diocese on March 16, April 6 and May 11. Each will begin with a 10 a.m. Mass celebrated by Bishop Michael Jackels, followed by tours of the cathedral campus.

Reach Fred Mann at 316-268-6310 or fmann@wichitaeagle.com.

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