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Seattle Catholic is not affiliated with the Archdiocese of Seattle
Seattle Catholic
A Journal of Catholic News and Views
28 Feb 2002
Follow-Up on the Milwaukee Cathedral Renovation

A bizarre sculpture of Christ hangs above the centralized marble table. (date actually 2/8/2002)

First-hand impressions of Weakland's monstrosity

Since last May, I have been a part of a wonderful group of people who have opposed the interior "wreckovation" of our historic St. John the Evangelist Cathedral in the Milwaukee Archdiocese. I decided to view the changes for myself on Saturday, February 17, 2002.

I arrived at St. John's Cathedral at 3:45 p.m.--90 minutes before the start of Mass. As I opened the door what hit me first was the overwhelming sound of the pipe organ. The organist NEVER stopped playing in the 90 minutes before Mass started. The only thought that came to my mind was: CIRCUS. It sounded like the music you hear when you go to the Great Circus Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Because of the close proximity of the organ to the Eucharistic Chapel, prayer and meditation were impossible. The "pipes" that are presently in the Sanctuary have not been hooked up yet (thank God for small favors) and I can't imagine the noise when that happens.

The second thing that hit me was--depressing. The former Cathedral was bright, beautiful, and uplifting. Your eyes were immediately drawn to the Sanctuary with its ornate baldacchino, emphasizing the Tabernacle. Hanging from the baldacchino was one of the most stunning crucifixes I have ever seen. The new Cathedral is comprised of dark wood, dark paintings, dark chairs and artwork of wood and metal. While I do love the colors of the newly painted interior (and it would have been stunning in the former Cathedral)--everything now is just so overwhelmingly bleak. In my opinion the focus of the church is twofold. First, music is god in the new Cathedral with the organ, piano and choir front and center. Second, the very bizarre sculpture of a shapeless, formless Christ on a spear holding a "wishbone" (they say its a dove but I beg to differ) with an out-of-proportion crown of thorns is hideous. Archbishop Weakland often stated that the reason for bringing the altar into the middle of the church was to give it prominence---that our entire faith is based on what happens on that altar. If that was truly his intention he has sorely failed. The very small marble altar is dwarfed by the "crown of thorns" sculpture and the massive organ pipes in the former Sanctuary.

The next most overwhelming feature of the Cathedral is the chairs. There are rows and rows of chairs. The Cathedral is filled front to back with chairs, chairs, and more chairs; BUT THERE IS A SLIGHT PROBLEM! Early on in the renovation process Archbishop Weakland stated that the reason why the pews

Contrary to pre-construction claims, the move from pews to chairs actually reduced the available seating and their spacing rendered the kneelers useless.
had to be removed was because seating needed to be increased. He stated that the Cathedral before renovation only held 720 people and by removing the pews and having chairs, the capacity of the Cathedral would increase to 900. I do not know where the archbishop got his information but he either knowingly or unknowingly participated in an "untruth." First, there is no more than 15" between each row of chairs--with many rows at 11" (yes I did measure). Place a tape measure on the floor and put two chairs on either end of your ruler. Now imagine trying to climb over people sitting on the ends of the rows with only 11" with which to maneuver! Next I counted the chairs. In the area behind the Altar there are 51 chairs on each side for a total of 102 chairs. In front of the Altar from back to front are 27 rows of chairs with varying numbers of chairs in each row---296 total on each side for a total of 592 chairs plus the 102 in the front section equals A GRAND TOTAL OF 694 SEATS---a far cry from the 900 that has been boasted about and even less than what the former Cathedral held! By bringing the altar into the "congregational area" of the church, the archbishop has lost valuable seating. This is important information for all those who are fighting wreckovations where they are eliminating sanctuaries. You cannot increase the capacity of a Cathedral by doing this type of arrangement. The good news is that most of the chairs do have kneelers. The bad news is NO ONE USES THEM! I attended Mass at the Cathedral several times before the wreckovation started. At the Saturday evening Mass, everyone knelt at the Consecration, Agnus Dei and after Communion. During Mass at the newly wreckovated Cathedral, NO ONE KNELT AT ALL DURING THE MASS (with the exception of two of us). During the Consecration and Communion Rite people stood and after Communion everyone sat. Also, if the person in front of you was sitting, it would be virtually impossible for you to kneel unless you would lean back at an uncomfortable angle (yes, it could be a penance and offered up in reparation for the destruction of the Cathedral).

The Baptismal font is dangerous in its present location in the center aisle of the church. The center aisle narrows at this point to allow only one person on each side to enter or exit the Cathedral. I actually caught my

The Vatican's remand instruction stated: "Furthermore, it has been determined that this chapel, as a result of its modest dimensions ... does not satisfy the requirement that the chapel be 'ad privatam fidelium adorationem et precationem idoneo' (Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, 2000, no. 315) since it would restrict to so few the number of the faithful who might actually take advantage of opportunities for private prayer before the Blessed Sacrament."
foot on the edge of marble and almost knocked over the Easter candle. Fortunately, an usher was there to catch me. I was a little distracted trying to count the amount of money that had been thrown into the pool. The water is heated and gurgles perpetually from the bowl to the pool. The Baptismal font also serves as the only Holy Water font in the entire Cathedral.

Eucharistic Chapel - Tabernacle Area - I am totally confused as to the placement of the Tabernacle except that it had to be removed from the former Sanctuary area because that is the new "music center." For people who are wheelchair bound, the entrance door is into this area. Anyone in a wheelchair must pass within two feet of the Tabernacle in order to access the Daily Mass Chapel (another disaster). I am sure this is the reason why there are so few chairs. As this is the only way you will ever be able to access the Daily Mass Chapel if you are disabled, the placement of any more chairs would make it impossible for a wheelchair to get through. For the record, you enter the building from the south and there is a "lift" right inside the door that brings you up the necessary couple of feet. From the lift, you go directly into the Eucharistic Chapel. Also, on the Cathedral side this area is very open. I always thought the reason given for taking the Tabernacle off the altar was to give people a quiet place to pray if something else is going on in the Cathedral. As I stated at the beginning, the music area in the former Sanctuary is directly to the right of the Eucharistic Chapel. If something is going on in the Cathedral (like the constant playing of the pipe organ), it will be a distraction for those who come to pray before the Blessed Sacrament.

Daily Mass Chapel - Without a doubt the most beautiful part of the Cathedral wreckovation but totally impractical. On one wall hangs the former Baldacchino Crucifix. On two other walls hang beautiful oil paintings of the Blessed Mother. There are also a couple of statues. Unfortunately, in Archbishop Weakland's quest to make a political statement, he has rendered this area bizarre and unusable for Mass. Mary Belardi has mentioned that when she attended Mass there, the priest was confused as to which side of the altar to stand on. There are no kneelers in the Daily Mass Chapel and with the present arrangement there never can be. Because this room is long and narrow, to place the altar in the middle with the presider's chair and ambo at either end defies common sense! Fortunately, the altar sits on a Persian rug and isn't attached to the floor so my feeling is this situation could be rectified. It's obvious from looking at this area that "how" Mass would be said in the Daily Mass Chapel was never taken into account.

Archbishop Weakland, whose humility is an inspiration to us all, is featured in this bronze sculpture along with Cathedral rector Fr. Carl Last and St. John the Evangelist.
Statutes - The two most prominent statues in the Cathedral are Pope John XXIII - in the usual St. Joseph spot and what is supposed to be the Blessed Mother. They reside on either end of the former Sanctuary area -- now Music Center. The Pope John statue is directly to the left on the Eucharistic Chapel. I guess I am somewhat shocked at his prominence. I understand that he is one of our most beloved popes, but he hasn't even been given "saintly" status yet. Again, we all know what this is about! It is my feeling that an appropriate spot for him would be in the back of the Cathedral before you enter the church---perhaps next to Archbishop Weakland's plaque where he states how he followed all the "liturgical norms of the renewal of Vatican II." My impression of the Blessed Mother statue is that she looks like a woman walking on a beach while the wind blows her garments. There is nothing to signify that she is Jesus' mother. I would never be prompted to kneel down and pray--to thank her or ask her for help. It would, quite frankly, make me feel that I was praying to the "golden calf." Of course the pedestal base with the bronze imprint of Archbishop Weakland and Father Last positioned next to St. John the Evangelist defies words.

Confessionals: There are only two in the whole church. One is a traditional Confessional near the back on the left side as you enter the church. The other former Confessional on the right side in the back of church now holds all the holy oils. The other is a Reconciliation Room off the Daily Mass Chapel. While I was visiting on Saturday an elderly gentleman approached me and asked me where the Confessionals were (I don't know why me---perhaps I look like a sinner and he thought I would be familiar with Confessionals!) When I pointed them out he remarked that they were both locked and that no one was hearing Confessions before Mass. I looked at the Bulletin and noticed that Confessions are held Wednesday and Friday from 4:30 - 5 p.m. The only conclusion to be drawn----Confession is not encouraged.

In a plaque, Archbishop Weakland guarantees that the renovation followed all "liturgical norms of the renewal of Vatican II." Loyal Catholics remind Mass-goers that the Vatican determined otherwise.
Saturday Evening Mass: The church was probably half full (I felt due to the Marquette Game that had ended at the Bradley Center which is just a short distance from the Cathedral) just before the start of Mass. The first thing the priest did was apologize for any mistakes that he might make while saying Mass as this was his first time saying Mass in the new "worship space." I thought if that statement doesn't tell the whole story of what was wrong with the wreckovation of this Cathedral, nothing does! I loved the antiphon: "BE MERCIFUL OH LORD, FOR WE HAVE SINNED" and I really enjoyed Father Steve's Homily. He spoke of how when we go from temptation to sin there is always a step in between called RATIONALIZATION. I do hope he shared his Homily with the archbishop. The other troubling thing I have noticed in the last few weeks are during the Petitions of the Mass. We never pray for Pope John Paul II or the Holy Father. We only pray for John Paul II, Bishop of Rome. I do not believe this is accidental. Of course the most disturbing part of all was that no one ever knelt. This was such a departure from former Masses at the Cathedral and it was heartbreaking. Sitting in the front section, if I looked straight ahead my view was of fellow Mass participants sitting across the church facing me. It was distracting. For those who didn't like the changes of Vatican II that now have the priest facing the people, you can attend the newly wreckovated Cathedral with its pre-Vatican II seating arrangement---102 of the seats look at the priest's back during Mass! Of course, the most disturbing of all was the fact that you would never know you were in a Catholic Church.

I am totally confused right now and disheartened. With this unnecessary Cathedral wreckovation, the rich tradition of our Catholic faith has been destroyed. Growing up it didn't matter what Roman Catholic Church you walked into. You knew you were in a Catholic Church because of the Tabernacle and the arrangement of the Altar, Pulpit and Sedelia--set apart from the people. The Tabernacle has always been and always will be a reminder of our belief as Catholics in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Sacrament of Eucharist. To relegate it to an obscure part of any church, but even more importantly in the Cathedral--the Mother Church of our diocese--is unconscionable. Mass used to celebrated the same in every church. You always knew when to sit, kneel and stand but not anymore. On the day of our rally, Michael Brennan kept saying "rupture, rupture" when people entered the Cathedral. It was never more evident Saturday night. There is a "rupture" in the Roman Catholic Church. I have heard rumors that the Vatican is afraid of a schism---that much money is sent from American bishops to Rome so the Vatican is reluctant to intervene. After viewing the newly wreckovated Cathedral, it's obvious it is too late---the schism is underway. The only question remaining is how LARGE it will be. As many have been saying---if the Vatican chooses to do nothing, AMCHURCH will have been firmly established in the United States of America. In my humble opinion the reason why the Roman Catholic Church has survived over 2000 years is its faithfulness to Doctrine and our rich Church Tradition. With this wreckovation all that has changed. What is the point of a Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments if they are powerless? What is the purpose of a US Conference of Bishops if they write guidelines ("Built of Living Stones") and the acceptable postures at Mass (watered down versions at that), yet look the other way when they are not followed? We are not ONE, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church anymore. We pray our Rosaries, we go to Mass, we do Novenas, we have done everything that GOD has asked of us but we are powerless to save our Roman Catholic Church. Today I despise the words "free will" as I watch the church I love come crumbling down around me while those who could help us remain silent. Heaven help us if they fail to speak!

Maureen J. Fitzsimmons-Vanden Heuvel
Erin, Wisconsin

Photos and caption information courtesy of DOR News & Views.

For a slide show of images from the dedication ceremony, visit The Cathedral Project Web site.
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