The reopening of the Cathedral of St Michael and St John
The renewed Cathedral of St Michael and St John, Bathurst reopened on Tuesday 23rd March 2021. A number of Masses and liturgies were celebrated during the week of opening to mark this milestone.
The restoration of the 159-year-old Cathedral is a momentous occasion in the history of the Catholic Diocese of Bathurst. This is the most significant restoration project in the lifetime of the building, taking more than eight years to complete.
The Cathedral has stood at the heart of the Bathurst community and in the centre of religious life for the Catholic Diocese of Bathurst, in particular the Cathedral Parish, for nearly 160 years and is significant to the cultural heritage of NSW.
The first act of public worship in the renewed Cathedral was an ecumenical service on the morning of Tuesday 23rd March. The service was attended by representatives from a number of denominations from the region and demonstrated the importance of the shared unity that Christians of all denominations hold: the power of Scriptures and the Word of God. Local church leaders from around the area came together to offer Scripture, prayer and fellowship.
Bishop Michael McKenna facilitated the ecumenical worship and the blessing of the new Ambo; a gift from the local Anglican Cathedral Parish. This generous offering builds on the long running friendship between the Catholic and Anglican Dioceses in the Central West.
Bishop McKenna then celebrated the first Mass in the renewed Cathedral that evening. Concelebrants included Fr Paul Devitt, Vicar General and Dean of the Cathedral, along with a number of the clergy from across the Diocese. Bishop Emeritus Peter Ingham of the Diocese of Wollongong, and Bishop Emeritus David Walker from the Diocese of Broken Bay were special guests on the night, and also concelebrated the Mass.
In his homily at the Mass for the Dedication of the new Altar, Bishop McKenna began by repeating the response to the Psalm that the congregation had prayed: “How lovely is your dwelling place O Lord.”
“God’s desire is for us to invite him to dwell in our hearts, so that we may become the living stones from whom the Church is being built”, said Bishop McKenna.
“In the first reading, Jacob dreamt of a ladder reaching to heaven, with the angels descending and ascending on it. Each time we will celebrate Mass on this Altar, there is the same gateway to eternity and the angels and the saints will worship with us”, he said.
Bishop McKenna explained, “The Altar spoken of in the Letter to the Hebrews is Christ himself. He is the priest, the victim and the altar of the one perfect sacrifice that reconciles us with God. When the act of redemption is renewed on this Altar or any Altar, the wound of division between humankind and God, between humankind and creation, and between each other, is being healed.”
“But we must desire and intend this reconciliation, as the Gospel today reminds us, by being willing to forgive and be forgiven by our brothers and sisters”.
On Wednesday 24th March, Bishop Mark Edwards, Bishop of Wagga Wagga, joined with Bishop McKenna when Mass was celebrated by Fr Paul Devitt and included the blessing of the new confessional.
Mass on the Solemnity of the Annunciation, Thursday 25th March included a blessing of the icon ‘Our Lady of the Central West’, with the week’s celebrations finishing with Vespers and Benediction and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament on Friday 26th March.
The reopening celebrations have been a time to give thanks to God for the efforts of many who have worked passionately to preserve the Cathedral whose history reflects that of the community; rich and layered. It’s been a place of faith, hope, solace and love and witnessed generations of families pass through its doors.
But the work is not quite complete. The Cathedral was opened in time for Easter to welcome the many parishioners who have not been able to worship there for close to 12 months, due to churches being closed this time year because of COVID. Before Pentecost, it will close again for a short period of time to complete the final works, including the removal of the beam above the sanctuary and polish the floors. The only major task to be tackled now is the heating system, which will be the focus of the next fundraising effort.
The significant phases of the project included the restoration of the bell tower, including the removal and repair of the two bells; the restoration of the Keppel and George Street façades; the school car park side and William Street façade; the restoration of the interior of the Cathedral and redesign of the Cathedral precinct landscape, aiming to prevent future water damage to the building and creating an inviting landscape to share with the Bathurst community.
“The initial focus of the project was to renew the life of Edward Gell’s Cathedral by rebuilding its foundations and restoring damaged stone and brickwork. This has already contributed to preserving and enhancing an important part of Bathurst’s heritage; as well as providing jobs and training for many and contributing to the local economy,” said Bishop McKenna.
“The final phase of the project extended these benefits, and we made the decision to take the once in a generation opportunity to make the oldest Catholic Cathedral in NSW and its grounds more beautiful and more functional for our parishioners and for Bathurst residents and visitors,” he said.
“Before we began planning to restore the Cathedral, we made a careful study of what was causing the building’s problems. Repairs had been made in the past, but then had to be done again, because the basic problems had not been dealt with.”
“What is true for repairing buildings, is also true for attempts to rebuild and renew the Church. I pray that what we have done with stone and wood and metal will become a tangible and visible symbol of the deeper work of renewal that Christ’s house, his Church, needs today and always”, said Bishop McKenna.
Prior to the opening of the Cathedral, Mr Phillip Burgett, Chair of the Restoration Management Committee, addressed the supporters of the Cathedral Restoration Appeal, thanking them for their generation contributions and giving a great summary of the journey so far. Phil’s address can be read HERE>
Photos from the reopening celebrations can be accessed here: