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How to build a cathedral

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When Bishop Michael F. Burbidge arrived in Raleigh in 2006, one of the first things he realized was that the diocese had outgrown the 300-seat capacity of Sacred Heart Cathedral. But previous Raleigh Bishop F. Joseph Gossman had left his successor with a plan to end the diocese’s standing as having the smallest cathedral in the continental United States. 

The diocese was ready and it was now up to Bishop Burbidge to lead them home.

“From day one it has been a joy to work with his vision for a traditional cathedral on this sacred land,” said Mann.

Three years later, Bishop Burbidge began working with the Cathedral Committee to build the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral on property two miles from the current cathedral. The name has a deep connection to the property and serves as a vehicle of evangelization. 

“Because of it being a church of the South, we wanted to celebrate the name of Jesus,” said Tim Mann, co-chair of the Cathedral Committee. He also said an orphanage chapel named for the Holy Name of Jesus used to stand on that property.

As the project moved forward, Bishop Burbidge had two goals when it came to financing, according to Mann.

“We were only going to build what the faithful wanted and had the funds to afford. We were not going to sacrifice anything with social ministries,” said Mann.

The bishop followed through on his promise, and in 2013 the diocese reported that the cathedral campaign had topped $57 million, with many parishes continuing to raise money. 

When it came to the cathedral design, Bishop Burbidge wanted it to be a source of inspiration to the entire community and a source of unity in the diocese. The committee hosted 400 design receptions to collect feedback from every corner of the diocese. The response was enthusiastic with a clear message to build a cathedral that was traditional, timeless and large enough to support major diocesan liturgies throughout the year. 

To give the cathedral the stone, mortar and dome it needed, Bishop Burbidge selected Arlington architect James H. O’Brien of O’Brien and Keane for the final design in September 2013.

“I’m still pinching myself to see if it’s just a dream,” said O’Brien. “At this point, it’s a little nerve-wracking because there is still much work to be done, and we’re starting to really see how it’s going to come out. It’s thrilling to see the progress.”

O’Brien has designed many houses of worship in the Arlington Diocese since his firm was founded in 1993. Some of his projects include St. John the Baptist Church in Front Royal, Holy Trinity Church in Gainesville and the future St. Jude Church in Fredericksburg. 

“It has been a great blessing to design Catholic churches, particularly in the Diocese of Arlington. Because of this work, I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about and drawing church designs, studying precedents and figuring out how to design a traditional church in the modern world,” said O’Brien. 

“The (Raleigh) cathedral presented an opportunity to put all of these ingredients to work,” he added. “For example, the tall and narrow proportions, together with the deeply set windows high in the walls, have an uplifting effect.”

According to O’Brien, the bishop had a number of design requests that will be implemented in the cathedral’s finished product. 

“The one that really stands out to me is his vision for the confessionals,” said O’Brien. “He’d seen a beautiful old-fashioned wood confessional compartment in one of his trips to Rome, at just about the same time when the famous photo of Pope Francis at a very similar confessional was circulating. He felt that the old confessional designs were so beautiful, and also conveyed such dignity.”

The diocese broke ground Jan. 3, 2015. The church will be dedicated July 26, 2017. For those who have worked side by side with the bishop, the end will be bittersweet.

“From day one it has been a joy to work with his vision for a traditional cathedral on this sacred land,” said Mann. “I will miss (this project) when it’s gone, but to be able to worship in the cathedral, that will last forever.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016