South End cathedral renovation to wrap-up in time for Palm Sunday opening

BOSTON — The final pieces of Italian marble are being cut and the new woodwork is getting sanded as Boston's Cathedral of the Holy Cross comes to the conclusion of a two year, $26-million renovation.

The plan is to reopen New England's largest Roman Catholic church for Palm Sunday.

The cathedral has anchored a block along Washington Street in the South End since 1875 and its age was definitely starting to show.

"Cardinal O'Malley had a great desire for this to become the center of Catholic life again in this diocese," according to Father Kevin O'Leary, the cathedral's rector.


Like any episode of "This Old House," there were surprises as the layers were peeled back. Robert Kountz, a former minister and the project manager for Suffolk Construction, said "I discovered that even some of the types of insulation were made out of horse hair."

The project began by reviewing old black and white pictures according to Kountz. Balancing the building's sense of history with modern building codes did present some challenges. "Finding a way to hide all the sprinkler pipes to bring it up to code, all the wires, so you're not going to see any wires, but we didn't want to take away the from the reverence of the experience for the people that worship here."

Those worshippers will find more comfortable pews which are now all handicap accessible, brighter LED lights, and brilliant stained glass which went thru a thorough cleaning.

Many of the workers felt a strong connection completing these tasks. "It became personal to them," said Kountz. "The number of folks on this job that have been married here, or Father O'Leary baptized their children."

Father O'Leary hopes the cathedral will now connect with future generations in the same way. "To come into a place, where in the past, maybe the seating was so uncomfortable or broken, or the darkness of the cathedral. A lot of things that had been neglected, now have been highlighted, and it's the openness and the light, the airiness of the building, it's just tremendous to see.

"The cathedral has also been an important meeting place for non-Catholics over the years as well. It's where former President Barack Obama spoke before an interfaith prayer vigil following the Boston Marathon bombings. The renovation was paid for through private donations.

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