Newly-restored St. Patrick Cathedral in Norwich marks 60th anniversary of diocese
By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Region - posted Mon., Jul. 29, 2013
The Cathedral of St. Patrick was a packed house July 27 as Catholics from around eastern Connecticut gathered to celebrate the Diocese of Norwich’s 60th anniversary. The event also served as something of a “grand reveal” of the cathedral, which recently underwent a massive interior restoration project.
“I love it. It’s just sparkling,” said the Most Rev. Daniel Reilly, bishop emeritus of Worcester, who had served the Norwich Diocese as bishop from 1975 to 1995. As concelebrant of the jubilee Mass, Reilly had a seat in the sanctuary, from which he said he had a spectacular view of the cathedral’s interior. “Every aspect of it is just remarkable,” he said.
Stripped of the scaffolding that had blocked pews for much of the three-year project, the formerly monochromatic cream-colored church interior was transformed with jewel-like colors and finely-painted detail, based on its original 1870s color scheme. Ruby-red pillars adorned with gold-leaf stencils stretched upward to the ceiling, where more than 600 bosses – carved plaster “buttons” at the crossing of arches – were decorated with religious monograms and symbols picked out in metallic paint. Tucked under the arches were murals depicting scenes from the life of Christ.
Also new is a mural behind the altar depicting the crucifixion of Jesus, along with images of the diocese’s two patron saints, St. Patrick and St. Anne, the grandmother of Jesus. The altar holds a new gold tabernacle (the small box which contains the consecrated communion bread) made in Spain.
“Beauty is a part of God, who is all good and all beauty,” said the diocese’s current leader, Bishop Michael Cote, whose 10th anniversary as Bishop of Norwich was also observed at the jubilee. “May this lovely house of worship inspire all who pray here.”
The bishop offered thanks to the anonymous donor whose bequest made the project possible. “I pray for him every day,” he said. Parishioners who responded to a fund drive to finish supplementary projects also received the bishop’s thanks, as did cathedral rector Msgr. Anthony Rosaforte, who visited the work site daily. “He was like an expectant father – and monsignor, wasn’t it a very long pregnancy?” the bishop quipped.
The diocese was formed by an Aug. 6, 1953, apostolic letter from Pope Pius XII, but the announcement was withheld until September, when a bishop could be appointed. The first bishop of the Diocese of Norwich was Bishop Bernard Flanagan, who at age 45 had been serving as chancellor of the diocese of Burlington, Vt.
Msgr. Thomas Bride, who served as vicar general of the Norwich diocese from 1984 to 2010, was a seventh-grader in parochial school in Middletown back in 1953. He recalled the Labor Day weekend when his father showed him a newspaper headline announcing that the Diocese of Hartford had been split to form a Diocese of Bridgeport, an Archdiocese of Hartford and a Diocese of Norwich. “My mom said this was going to be an exciting period in our lives. She was absolutely right on,” he said.
When the young Bride returned to school in the fall, he and his classmates learned all about the structure of a diocese in religion class: what a bishop does, the roles of chancellor and vicar general, even the design of the coat of arms. Bride was thrilled – secretly longing to be a priest, he had feared that he’d be rejected from the seminary because he didn’t know those things. “It was grace,” he said. “I would know all about the Catholic church and the work of a bishop.”
Bride and his family attended a special reception at the newly-designated cathedral to meet the diocese’s first leader soon after his installation. Bride described Bishop Flanagan as a “young man, a vibrant man, handsome, thin and personable” and recalled being instructed to genuflect and kiss his ring when he was introduced. “On that day there was not a more thrilled person in eastern Connecticut than that young man on his knees kissing his ring,” he said. The new bishop “looked so fabulous. Everything was perfect.”
The family also climbed the stairs from the hall to visit the cathedral’s sanctuary, which had recently been completely renovated, incorporating liturgical elements required in a cathedral, such as the bishop’s chair, or cathedra, and a bishop’s chapel behind the altar. “It was awesome, magnificent, just as beautiful as Hartford’s cathedral,” said Bride.
A few years later, as a high school senior, Bride was taken to meet Flanagan in his office to discuss his wish to enter the seminary. Though shaking in his shoes, the young man said he received “nothing but encouragement” from the bishop – in fact, he even received an offer of a scholarship set up specifically for seminarians from the new diocese.
Currently the Diocese of Norwich includes 76 parishes in New London, Windham, Tolland and Middlesex counties.