HARTFORD – Archbishop Leonard P. Blair donned one of seven ceremonial hard hats and wielded one of seven ceremonial shovels on Sept. 24 to break ground for an addition that will expand access to and hospitality within the Cathedral of St. Joseph.
Warmly greeted by many as he arrived was distinguished guest Archbishop Emeritus Henry J. Mansell, who put on a hard hat and took up a shovel to set in motion the work that will make a reality of one of his principal goals during his 10 years as Archbishop of Hartford.
Over the past few years, $5.5 million had been donated to finance the addition and future renovations.
The 3,000-square foot addition will include an elevator as well as 16 new lavatories, eight on the cathedral’s main level and eight on the lower level.
A large tent was erected for the occasion within the already fenced-off worksite, where construction is expected to take about a year. Listening to speeches before the blessing and shovel ceremony was an enthusiastic group of invitees, many of whom chatted near a display of schematics and artwork. They included invited city officials, St. Joseph parishioners, priests, religious, archdiocesan employees and visitors from some of the 213 parishes in the archdiocese for which the cathedral serves as the mother church.
Robert McTiernan, director of development for the archdiocese, thanked everyone who contributed to the fund-raising campaign over many years, identifying the major donors but also expressing gratitude to countless others whose generosity made the day possible.
Msgr. John J. McCarthy, rector of the cathedral and chancellor of the archdiocese, welcomed Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, Assistant Hartford Police Chief Brian Heavren, the capital campaign’s executive committee and the development committee. He acknowledged the donors of three major in-kind gifts, including James Manafort of Manafort Brothers Inc., which will oversee the excavation and site development work; Greg Oneglia, whose O&G Industries Inc. will be responsible for the construction of the new addition; and United Technologies Corp.’s Otis Elevator Co., which will donate the elevator.
Msgr. McCarthy said the improved accessibility that the elevator will provide will be well-received by those whose physical limitations have caused them to to stop going there.
“This is a remarkable place, and this will now allow many of those people to come, so that is really what I think is the major contribution we are making to the cathedral today, so thank you very much.”
On a morning of speeches filled with stories about the past and about how the addition will serve the parish as well as the archdiocese for years to come, it was appropriate that the shovel Archbishop Blair used was the one with which Archbishop Henry J. O’Brien broke ground for the cathedral itself on Sept. 8, 1958.
Archbishop Blair said, “I want simply to first of all express my profound thanks to Archbishop Mansell. You know, my parents always tried to leave something better than they found it. I certainly think that’s true of Archbishop Mansell; he’s done a great service in leaving things better than he found them.”
At a time when many people question the value of religion or fail to acknowledge the reality of God, Archbishop Blair said, “This great cathedral and every church towering above the city is a sign that God is present in our midst. But more than that, it is also a sign of the church, and by that I don’t mean the building and the bricks and stone, but I mean all of us. It’s the sign of our presence in this world and to do what Christ commanded us to do.”
Also speaking were donors Dr. Peter Deckers, a physician, who chaired the fund-raising committee; and Pattilynn Conard, a parishioner since 1971 and member of the committee. Ms. Conard gestured behind the tent indicating the construction equipment standing by and declared, “It’s good to see the earth move.”
Afterward, Archbishop Mansell told the Transcript that the project “carries forward the great work of the cathedral, and we pray, not just for years but for centuries, that it will make a big difference as we go forward, enabling more people to be here, more people to be properly served.”