Spirit of Renewal Pervades Chrism Mass at
Cathedral of St. Patrick 

By Adam Benson/The Bulletin

NORWICH — For three years, faithful Catholics and visitors to Norwich’s Cathedral of St. Patrick were forced to walk gingerly around huge scaffolding and construction equipment brought in for one of the most significant restoration project in its history.

So on Tuesday, when more than 1,200 people from all 76 parishes in the Norwich Diocese attended the annual Holy Week Chrism Mass at the landmark cathedral that opened in 1879, they could be forgiven for having a different reason to be distracted.

“We love it — the grandeur of it all,” said Doreen Ellis, who belong to St. Mary’s Church in Willimantic. “It reminds you of the awesomeness of God.”

Though a rededication Mass for the renovated church was held last June, many in the diocese’s far-removed parishes had yet to make the pilgrimage to see the changes for themselves.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome,” the Most Rev. Michael R. Cote, bishop of Norwich, said Tuesday. “Whenever we look upon something of beauty, we see a little bit of God. Hopefully, this cathedral will inspire people for generations to come.”

The two-hour Mass, with its emphasis on spiritual renewal and sustenance, provided the ideal setting for worshippers to bask in the cathedral’s new look.

“It’s amazing. It looks new. I think it’s going to take a few more trips to take it in,” said Lenora Rice, of St. Luke’s Church in Ellington. “You just can’t do it all at once. The more I look, the more I notice.”

Since launching its SPIRIT — or St. Patrick Is Restored in Tradition — initiative in January 2011, the church has installed refurbished pews, relocated its baptismal font, restored the bishop’s throne and added energy-efficient lighting and a high-tech sound system.

Cote told those in attendance that he appreciated celebrants’ understanding.

“You had to dodge many things when coming to Mass, and I thank you for your patience,” he said of the recently completed renovation.

Sixty feet up, 20 newly painted murals depict Christ’s life from the Annunciation of Mary by the Archangel Gabriel to his ascent to heaven.

A single donor paid for the work through an anonymous bequest to the diocese, and officials have kept the person’s identity and financial details of the project a secret.

The Mass itself, in which Diocesan leaders hand out sacred oils to each parish that are used in sacraments throughout the year, holds great significance for believers.

“It is the church as its most visible,” Cote said during his homily, calling the practice a “beautiful celebration of faith.”

Readings were conducted in English and Spanish to reflect the diocese’s diversity. Cote also honored John Canning of Cheshire-based Canning Studios with the prestigious Patrici-Anne Award for Distinguished Service to the Diocese.

Canning’s firm was commissioned to produce the wall murals. During the process craftsmen discovered — and restored — stencil patterns original to the cathedral’s construction.

Underneath newly cleaned stained-glass windows, Maryanne Alfieri of St. Paul’s Church in Waterford held a small glass cruet as she waited to collect oils that will return to her parish.

She had an opportunity to absorb the cathedral’s facelift.

“It’s absolutely unbelievable. Just wonderful,” she said.