Even great cathedrals need help from friends

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

A deep cleaning of the All Souls Chapel: $40,000. Spiffing up the baldacchino over the main altar: $8,000. New curtains for the confessionals: $12,000. Maintaining the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis as a treasure for people around the world: priceless.

Phyllis Littmann and Ken Bower understand what the cathedral basilica means for the St. Louis community and beyond, and they work to keep it that way. They are among the board members of the Friends of the Cathedral Basilica, a group dedicated to preserving it for centuries to come. Their mission is to provide the funds to maintain the cathedral basilica.

"Oh, the history," Littmann said. The first Mass was prayed at the New Cathedral on Oct. 18, 1914, and highlights included a prayer service led by St. John Paul II in 1999. Littmann also cited the mosaics, completed in 1988 and including 41.5 million tesserae.

The Friends group raises money for restoration, "just like at your house where you're constantly needing to repair something or update," Littmann said. "I just love being a part of it and want to keep the cathedral as beautiful as it is today. It's important to take care of God's house."

Bower, a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in University City, said that the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the first Mass at "this incredible building" is important for St. Louis. He tries to let other Catholics know that the cathedral basilica is accessible to them. The cathedral basilica is a destination for people from around the world, he added, calling it not only a majestic building, but also a civic treasure that provides visitors a favorable impression of the city.

Carole Less, who oversees the Friends group for the cathedral basilica, said people ask her why it costs so much to clean the walls and ceiling. She laughs in giving the answer: "Well, you can't power-wash mosaics."

The cathedral basilica includes 83,000 square feet of mosaic tile, 46,410 square feet of granite floor, two stained-glass rose windows, several marble statues, 63 marble pillars, four chapels, three domes and much more.

A wonderful place for Catholics and others who frequent it for prayer, it also is an icon for the city, something considered beyond even the best of the cathedrals of Europe. "We just have to preserve it," Less said.

The Friends of the Cathedral Basilica also acknowledge its primary role as a sacred place, the cathedral of the archdiocese and the parochial church of the cathedral parish. Friends members are asked to contribute once a year.

The John L. May Society was established in 1992 to guide the preservation of the art and architecture and to recognize Friends who annually give $1,000 or more. Less thanks all who give to help in the cathedral basilica preservation.

Msgr. Joseph Pins, rector of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis Parish, served as associate pastor from 1975-80 before returning to the parish in 2004. It has been a big part of his life and "has been the place that strengthened my faith over the years," he said.

With the help of so many supporters, the cathedral basilica will remain a place where faith is strengthened and as a well-preserved icon of St. Louis.


WHAT: A dinner celebration marking the first Mass at the Cathedral in October of 1914

WHEN: Sunday, Oct. 12, at 6 p.m., with dinner at 7 p.m.

WHERE: Chase Park Plaza, 232 N. Kingshighway Blvd. in the Central West End of St. Louis

COST: $150

CONTACT: Carole Less at (314) 373-8240, by Oct. 7

Two 10-inch crosses will be auctioned at the anniversary party. Tesserae tile left over from the completion of mosaic work on the cathedral basilica was obtained by the Friends of the Cathedral Basilica and incorporated in the crosses made with cherry wood. Emil Frei and Associates — a Kirkwood company founded by the man who had a role in the Ravenna Mosaic Co., which installed the cathedral mosaics — did the artwork on the crosses with the leftover mosaics. Also created are several smaller crosses that will be made available.

The Friends of the Cathedral Basilica membership is open to all who contribute annually. To become a member, call Carole Less at (314) 373-8240 or contribute online to www.cathedralstl.org/parish/donate. 

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