Still unclear when parishioners can return to St. Catherine’s

By Mario Lekovic

Joe Madden has laid to rest many family members at St. Catherine’s Church.

Now, Madden and the rest of the Liberties community are fighting to make sure the church itself is not buried under the €4.5 million worth of damage caused by an arsonist more than a year ago.

It is still unclear to residents in the community as to when the church will reopen for worship. Restoration work continues on the inside, as parishioners raise money to replace roof slates and church officials fret about more delicate work, like on the church’s organ and stained glass.

It all could add up to several more months of waiting – at least.

Even Priest Richard Goode has no concrete basis for an opening date.

“They’re talking about July or August, sometime around then,” said Rev. Goode

Fire damage is covered by the church’s insurance. But an additional €150,000 is needed to replace the aging slates of the roof. Because the old slates were not damaged by the fire, insurance will not pay to replace them.

Still, church officials think now is a good time to do so.

“It made no sense to spend €4.5 million restoring a church and then find that in a year or two time, the roof is going to start leaking,” Goode said. “The insurance has no obligation to replace the roof.”

The church regularly holds fundraisers and sells the old roof slates at €5 a piece to make a dent in the €150,000 budget goal. The most recent report from the Meath Street Parish and John’s Lane Church newsletter shows €139,913 has been collected for the new slates.

And then there’s the inside of the church. Before any carpentry and general construction work can be done, the restoration company has to complete the refurbishment process due to possible exposure to harmful chemicals.

“The remedial work has to be done to make it safe,” said Tom Fitzpatrick, the owner of Stone Clean, which has been working on the church for over a month now.

Stone Clean is likely to be working at the church until at least April. The firm also restored St. Mary’s Cathedral in Killarney after it was damaged by fire in 2010, but that does not compare to St. Catherine, Fitzpatrick said.

“It was nothing like this place here,” said Fitzpatrick. “This place is completely gutted.”

And then there’s the task of fixing the organ and the east stained-glass window.

“They are the more difficult things to reconstruct,” said Rev. Goode. “The stained glass is like a huge jigsaw to put back together, and the organ is a very intricate instrument.”

Goode estimates the work on the stained glass and the organ will not be finished until at least Christmas 2013.

Madden and worshippers can still go to the Grotto behind the church to pray. The Grotto, where Madden was married 68 years ago was unharmed by the fire. After attending the church for decades, Madden and other parishioners now must attend John’s Lane church on Thomas Street.

Madden said even though he can’t go inside St. Catherine to pray, he goes to the Grotto every day.

“I got married in that church,” said Madden. “My in-laws are all buried over there, and I hope to be buried over there.”

Mario Lekovic was part of a team of students from Columbia College Chicago who traveled to Ireland to report and write about the Liberties.

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