Wichita Catholic Diocese plans to renovate St. Mary Cathedral

Haze created a spectacular sunrise over the domes of St. Mary's Cathedral Friday morning. (May 22, 1998)
Haze created a spectacular sunrise over the domes of St. Mary's Cathedral Friday morning. (May 22, 1998) File photo

The most prominent church in the Wichita Catholic Diocese is nearly a century old and showing its age. So plans are under way to renovate the historic St. Mary Cathedral, at Central and Broadway in downtown Wichita. The cost is estimated at $16 million.

"The cathedral is like the mother church of the Diocese. It' s the seat of the Bishop," said Mike Wescott, director of development, "so it holds special significance for us."

Bids for the renovation will go out in April. The church will close for a year when construction begins, possibly in the fall.

Rev. Msgr. Robert Hemberger said the Diocese hopes to complete the renovation and re-dedicate the cathedral by the end of 2012 to mark its 100-year anniversary.

Renovation of the cathedral is part of the church's "Together Vision," aimed at bringing a sense of unity to the 90-parish Diocese, deepen the stewardship experience, and raise funds for its 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 $17.2 million so far, Wescott said.

The cathedral renovation will be extensive. Water damage has crept into the walls of the massive interior, lighting is dim, paint needs refreshing, and accessibility for the handicapped needs to be added.

For those who attend services, the sightlines between the pillars also will be improved. The altar and the decorative arch behind the altar will be moved forward 6 feet, and the "ambo," or pulpit, will be moved forward beside one of the pillars.

The tabernacle will be moved from the west transept to a central location behind the altar.

Wescott said the changes will result in a slight increase in seating capacity, from 800 to 820.

Confessionals and restrooms will be improved, a bride's room added, and access to the choir loft will be improved while its railing will be raised for better safety.

The old radiator heating system, which bangs noisily during services, will be changed.

Work will be done to bring color back to niches, arches and walls, which have been gradually whitewashed over the decades .

The dome 105 feet above the floor will be freshened and more brightly lit.

All buildings on the campus will be connected by a new covered structure, which will serve as a gathering space.

A new energy-efficient heating and cooling system will be installed beneath the gathering space.

The three-story St. Joseph Pastoral Center, which houses an old gym and classrooms, will be renovated for a social hall, parish offices, a serving kitchen and reconfigured meeting rooms. Bathrooms and an elevator will added to the building.

"It's a great building and people have rallied around wanting to keep it," Wescott said.

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