Wilhelm’s mark on Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral Renovation still echoes through 30 years of holiday celebrations
This holiday season, as they have for the past 30, parishioners and visitors to the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in downtown Indianapolis can experience the wonder of the season gazing upon an intricate and magnificent display of an almost life-sized nativity in the sanctuary of the church.
It wasn’t always so easy to see, though. For decades, the crèche was displayed behind a large wooden rail along the altar in the church, obstructing its view. In 1986, that bar was removed as part of a significant renovation designed to bring parishioners closer to the altar, the focal point of their services and religious celebrations.
Pastoral Associate, Deacon Steve Hodges said the renovations were needed to support liturgical changes made by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s to foster greater connection between parishioners and their priests during Mass. He said, “Part of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council was to get the congregation to be more active and engaged in the celebration during the hour-long service. Hodges said the most noticeable change resulting from the renovation was that it brought the people physically closer to the priest during the service. “This makes you feel more connected and in touch with what is going on,” he said.
F.A. Wilhelm Construction managed the renovation, which Hodges described as extensive. The sanctuary, which is the main altar area of the building, was extended outward in the shape of a peninsula to bring it and the congregation closer together. Physical separations including the altar rail were also removed. Hodges said that prior to the renovation, the lighting was marginal and that even with all the lights on, the sanctuary was still fairly dark. He said the new lighting installed during the renovation improved the space dramatically making it more welcoming. The colors were also changed to make the space brighter with many of the religious paintings – canvases with deep, rich color — replaced with white statuary.
Hodges said there is a lot more room in the sanctuary than there used to be, noting that rows upon rows of dark wooden pews were replaced by chairs to offer more flexibility in the arrangement of seating for parishioners. The main cathedral can hold about 1,000 people as a result of the renovation, and the sanctuary can seat about 100 people during major celebrations without taking space away from the congregation. “We do this for ordinations,” he said, adding, “It’s really pretty impressive for the congregation, too, to see all the priests and the bishops up there at one time.” Hodges said in addition to several religious celebrations each year, the space is used for the ordinations of priests and deacons throughout the Diocese. The cathedral is also host to an average of 30 Confirmations each year – welcoming of hundreds of children from suburban parishes into full discipleship with Christ.
The renovation was challenging in a number of ways, especially in terms of the cathedral’s size and age. However, at that time, Wilhelm already had more than a decade of experience with historic renovation projects and cultural and religious facilities. Kenney said. “We understand the complexities of church projects. This is important because they’re all pretty unique. Not only was this building large and intricate in size, it also is the home church of the entire Archdiocese of Indianapolis. It is a sacred place to many, and people were eagerly awaiting the outcome of the renovations.”
Working on such an important building was a natural fit for Wilhelm. Kenney’s grandfather and company founder, F.A. Wilhelm, was a strong supporter of the Catholic Church in Indianapolis through both his financial gifts and the gift of his time. His commitment was also evident in the work of his company, past and present. To date, Wilhelm Construction has worked on more than 375 small and large construction projects at Catholic-related facilities throughout the Midwest since its founding in 1923.
When I drive around town,” Kenney said, “I can see my grandfather’s imprint on the community in so many buildings in a certain kind of stone or a type of feature he was known for. It’s very gratifying to see the impact the company and our family has had on these buildings that are a part of the faith of so many.”The cathedral is an important place for Catholics throughout Indiana and is known for its holy day celebrations and all the special events that take place there. Pastor, Father Pat Beidelman, and his congregation serve the local community through their many ministries.
Hodges said, “One of our major ministries here is that we have a soup kitchen in the building that used to be the grade school.” He said the ministry started in 1928 by handing out peanut butter sandwiches. “We’ve been feeding the needy ever since.”
The church provides 140-150 weekday meals and provides food through its pantry for more than 1,000 families every month. “They come from all over the neighborhood — people are coming from every direction because they depend on us,” said Hodges.
In reflecting on the past 30 years, it’s clear that the 1986 renovation by Wilhelm helped to bring the church’s parishioners closer to its faith while other, external changes continue bringing them closer to the local community.This Christmas season, as it has for so many, Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral will be there, continuing its longstanding tradition of nourishing both the body and soul of its parishioners and the surrounding community.