Architectural gem almost fully polished

The revitalised columns and frontage of Sacred Heart Cathedral, signal the approach of the long-awaited reopening of this Archdiocesan treasure.

Sacred Heart Cathedral’s revitalised columns and frontage. Photo: Fr James Lyons

WelCom December 2023

Fr James Lyons

The revitalised columns and frontage of Sacred Heart Cathedral, signal the approach of the long-awaited reopening of this Archdiocesan treasure.

‘Seeing these beautiful columns without the scaffolding and protective cover, is a great highlight for me after a journey of more than five years,’ project architect, Jane Kelly, told me in an interview, mid-November.

Another personal highlight for her was having the interior carpet installed.

‘This was purchased two years ago to avoid price increases and with the hope it would properly complement the rest of the design. It does so wonderfully well, exactly as I’d hoped.

‘There’ll be so much joy when people see their spiritual home, glittering and sparkling like a gem is meant to be,’ she assures. ‘And our cathedral is certainly an architectural gem.’ 

I asked Jane for her impressions of the overall project, especially as its original focus, when the cathedral was closed in 2018, was on earthquake strengthening.

‘The task was seen as a commitment of about two years and the parish was sure it could manage the fundraising,’ she explained.

But all that changed when the strengthening work exposed other damage. It became an archdiocesan project.

The cathedral qualified for government assistance through the ‘Shovel Ready Grant’ initiative to counter job insecurity caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘This enabled us to attempt to more completely repair the cathedral, although we knew this would mean a longer closure.’

As an example, much of the interior painted masonry had a moisture content of 90 per cent. The paint had to be stripped by hand to enable a drying process. Asbestos was found in some of the window sealings, which meant all the windows required testing. Both time consuming and labour intensive.

Other factors, pushing the closure of the cathedral to more than five years, were the Covid national shutdown, the later requirement to work only in small separate groups and the scarcity of quality tradespeople.

‘We were bringing engineers from Christchurch for several months.’

Jane has been a Sacred Heart parishioner for over 20 years and this has helped her through the long process, supporting her professional role.

‘I know how the building is used and I know what parishioners expect,’ she said, while admitting the closure has been difficult for people and many are now absent from the parish Masses transferred to Wilton, Karori and Connolly Hall.

But she has also picked up a growing sense of excitement as signs of completion can now be seen.

‘Yes, it will probably be close to six years when we finally reopen, but I’m very positive about the outcome, both as project architect and as a keen parishioner,’ Jane smiles.

‘The time has not been wasted. We’ve had a unique opportunity to future-proof a building highly rated for its religious and cultural significance.’

Jane Kelly was recently appointed Chair of Team Architects, a group of nine independent architect companies. Her speciality is in the restoration of heritage housing. Sacred Heart Cathedral is blessed by the skills of someone greatly valued in her profession and, as a parishioner, personally committed to the project.

The official re-opening for the newly restored Sacred Heart Cathedral is scheduled for the weekend of 7, 8, 9 June 2024.