ABC7 goes inside Holy Name

Holy Name hosts fundraiser
March 14, 2009 12:19:08 PM PDT
ABC7 gets an exclusive look at the repairs under way at Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral. The landmark church was heavily damaged by a fire on February 4, 2009. The blaze was mostly contained to the attic of the 134-year-old building, but the sanctuary was also damaged. Parishioners have held Mass in another part of the complex.

More than a month later, crews have not been able to work on the roof. But, inside an ambitious effort is underway to re-open Holy Name.

"There's a feeling I can't describe of looking up at your church and seeing flames come out of the roof," said Rev. Dan Mayall, Holy Name Cathedral.

Rev. Mayall is a priest who was forced by circumstance to become foreman in the sanctuary's massive restoration effort. Scaffolding is now being erected so workers can inspect all 24,000 pieces of wood paneling that lines the ceiling of Holy Name Cathedral. So far, they've found roughly 10-percent of the woodwork is damaged.

"We're going to hand touch everyone of them to make sure they haven't been damaged by water or heat, any that are split will be replaced," said Greg Veith, archdiocese construction manager.

The work is familiar for many of the contractors. Some of the same crews painstakingly restored the ceiling less than a year before the fire.

ABC7 got an exclusive look at where the fire began, going beyond a small set of stairs, and up a narrow ladder, and in through a small opening to a small crawl space between the wood ceiling and the roof. The timber beams are originals that were installed in the late 1800s. that makes them the perfect kindling for a fire.

"As far as saving a building, this might have been the biggest save in the history of the Chicago Fire Department," said Rev. Dan Mayall.

Insurance investigators have yet to sign-off on the cause of the fire, so they're not yet allowing engineers in to fully evaluate how to put a 21st century roof on a 19th century cathedral. But optimism abounds.

"The Good Lord willing, things go well, we want to give 'em the church back August 1st," said Greg Veith, who admits it's an ambitious timeline.

Holy Name's parish priest estimates as many as 1,000 less people attend weekend masses now that they're held in a neighboring auditorium. That means collections are down, ministries are hurt, and the parish struggles.

"I hate to see people get out of cabs, look at the fencing and say 'What's going on here?' We're encouraged by all the folks who are here, who haven't disappeared. We know some have, and we hope they'll come back," said Rev. Mayall.

Before the fire, more than 70-percent of the people who attended mass at Holy Name were visitors.

Donations to help repair the church have come from across the country and from churches of all denominations. However, until engineers can evaluate roof repairs, the church can't put a price tag on how much it'll cost to get the doors of Holy Name Cathedral open agina.

Holy Name Cathedral Fundraiser

Palmer House Hilton
Monday, March 30