Church officials say the hard work is making Holy Name look better than ever.
The smell of fresh paint and varnish wafted through Holy Name Tuesday as laborers worked to restore the grandeur of the sanctuary. All 23,000 pieces of the intricate wood ceiling have been polished to a sheen and the gold leaf has been reguilded. Below, hundreds of pews have just returned from a company in Wisconsin that refinished them, and they are now being fastened to the floor. It's a flurry of activity that has consumed the church ever since it was heavily damaged in a fire back in February.
"Old Holy Name church was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire. That's why this one was built, so a fire like this wasn't going to stop us," said Rev. Dan Mayall, Holy Name Cathedral.
But it was a major setback for the church... When the fire broke out, Holy Name was finishing up a major restructuring project that started the year before when a piece of the ceiling fell. The fire started in the attic, burning holes in the roof. Workers continue to repair the damage, replacing the burnt wood.
There is also a effort to repair the damage to the sanctuary from all the water it took on during efforts to fight the fire.
"Ice was forming on the pews, ice was on columns. Water was squirting from columns was under a tremendous amount of pressure," said Greg Veith, archdiocese construction manager.
Holy Name plans to reopen the first weekend in August, and the church expects a full house of parishioners anxious to get inside after six months of worshiping in an adjacent parish center.
"I'll say, 'Welcome home,' not only to the people who belong to Holy Name Cathedral, but to all of Chicago, because this is the place where Chicago goes to pray," said Mayall.
The fire has caused a major financial burden for the church. Insurance investigators have not yet determined what started the fire, which caused about $6 million worth of damage. That's in addition to the $8 million it cost the church to make all of the structural repairs last year. They have received $2 million in donations but are asking for more help.