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Norwich — An ordination Mass has been cause for a major celebration in the Catholic faith for centuries, but at the Cathedral of St. Patrick today, the 10:30 a.m. Mass to ordain Father Brian Maxwell will be especially colorful as the first major event since the scaffolding that filled the cathedral was removed.
Beginning in late December, the cathedral interior was encased in scaffolding and plywood that hid from view a major restoration and renovation project, called SPIRIT, funded through the anonymous donation of a parishioner.
SPIRIT — St. Patrick Cathedral is Restored in Tradition — is 98 percent complete, diocese spokesman Michael Strammiello said, with scaffolding now lining only the front sanctuary.
A Mass of Thanksgiving is planned for 10:30 a.m. on July 27 to celebrate the restoration, along with the diocese's 60th anniversary, the 140th anniversary of the laying of the cathedral's foundation stone, and The Most Rev. Michael Cote's 10th anniversary as the bishop of Norwich.
The cathedral is awash in color. Maroon columns bear gold stencils that match the border trim along the walls. The Stations of the Cross now bear wooden frames that match the pews and confessional booths.
Above, a sky-blue ceiling brings out the artwork in the cream-colored decorative ribbing beams that crisscross to the ceiling's peak. At each intersection is a "boss," each with an iconic, deeply Catholic symbol. Colorful murals depicting scenes of Christ's life adorn the high walls.
"(Today) is the first really large celebratory Mass in a nearly completely restored cathedral," Strammiello said.
Today's Mass is open to the public, but participants won't be the first to see the unveiled restoration. Father Tom Albrecht welcomed the new look at Friday's noon Mass.
"Because there is no more scaffolding and men tromping up and down, I can finally preach," Albrecht said to the several dozen Mass attendees.
Rick LaPierre of Norwich, who attends Mass daily at St. Patrick, said the restoration puts St. Patrick on par with the great cathedrals in Europe.
"It's incredible. Absolutely spectacular," he said after Friday's Mass. "I think this place rivals anything in Europe. I've been to Europe. This is the prettiest cathedral I have ever been in."
Sara O'Hearn, also a regular parishioner, called it a "Renaissance church come to Norwich."
Father Gregory Galvin, vocational director for the diocese and spiritual administrator at St. Bridget of Kildare in Moodus, hopes today's ordination brings another renaissance for the diocese — an increase in the number of priests.
Galvin said the diocese now has nine men attending seminary schools, including one studying in Rome, nearly twice the number attending seminary school five years ago, Galvin said.
Maxwell, originally from Maine, knew Bishop Cote and contacted him six years ago about his calling, Galvin said. Bishop Cote has not yet announced where Maxwell will be assigned.
The diocese hopes to hold two more ordination Masses next year, and in October, seminarian Jonathan Ficara, who is studying in Rome, is expected to be ordained as a transitional deacon, meaning he intends to become a priest in the near future.
The dwindling number of priests in the Catholic Church has been publicized worldwide. Former Pope Benedict XVI more than two years ago asked for a year of prayer for more priests. In the Diocese of Norwich, Bishop Cote called for an hour of prayer per month for priests. The hour of prayer now rotates to different parishes each month, coming to the Cathedral of St. Patrick each May.
The hour of prayer was held Friday night on the eve of Maxwell's ordination, Galvin said.
He said he has traveled the diocese asking parishioners to become more aware of when a local man might be interested in the priesthood.
"It really takes everyone to identify and support and notice an individual who has a calling," he said. "Usually, a call is such a private call and humbling, and they often don't always speak about it themselves. When someone else sees it and talks about it, he might feel comfortable talking about it."