, ,

$15M in renovations are underway to create new cathedral for Diocese of Madison

The 11-county diocese has been without a cathedral since a fire destroyed a historic Madison church in 2005

Work is ongoing at St. Bernard Catholic Church on Thursday, April 4, 2024, in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Renovations are underway to convert a nearly century-old church into a new cathedral for the Catholic Diocese of Madison.

The $15 million project could be completed by late 2025 at the site of Madison’s St. Bernard Church.

A Catholic cathedral serves as the seat of a bishop who leads a diocese. Madison Bishop Donald Hying describes it as a “mother church.”

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Bishop Donald Hying, left, and Rev. Michael Radowicz, right, stand inside St. Bernard Catholic Church where a cathedral is being built Thursday, April 4, 2024, in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

 “It’s the place for all the people of God throughout the diocese to gather for very special events,” Hying said.

But for last two decades, Catholics in the 11-county diocese have been making do without a cathedral after an arsonist destroyed Madison’s St. Raphael Cathedral in a 2005 fire.

St. Bernard Catholic Church is holding services in a gymnasium, pictured here on Thursday, April 4, 2024, in Madison, Wis., while renovations are ongoing to convert the church into a cathedral. Angela Major/WPR

Now, the diocese has received Vatican approval to convert a church just east of the Capitol into a new cathedral.

The location, Hying said, is ideally situated in the “heart of the city.” And, he said, it will be more economical to convert an existing structure instead of building anew.

 “To have the opportunity to create a new cathedral is extraordinarily rare, except if a new diocese is created, which is not the case here,” Hying said. “So that’s why we want to do it so carefully and so well, because we realize we are building for the ages.”

Project manager Paul Lang explains the construction process of the new cathedral Thursday, April 4, 2024, in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Renovating a church first built in 1927 has its challenges, said Paul Lang, a project manager for the diocese.

Workers have re-poured the church’s concrete floor so it can meet modern load-bearing standards. Eventually, they plan to cover it in terrazzo tiles.

The overall effect will be to inspire awe, said Rev. Michael Radowicz, the pastor at St. Bernard.

A worker removes a portion of a wall during the cathedral’s construction Thursday, April 4, 2024, in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

“What you’ll see in the floor and some of the lower walls (are) similar terracotta colors, light brown colors, symbolizing the world, the earth,” he said. “Then, as you are lifted up, the ceiling will be a very majestic blue with stars in the sky. symbolizing that we always are looking upward. We are gazing upward to the heavenly.”

Because it’s a historic landmark, the building must preserve some of its original materials, Lang said.

Expansions are being constructed inside St. Bernard Catholic Church to accommodate a larger choir Thursday, April 4, 2024, in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

The roof of the new cathedral will be covered with Luigi tiles imported from Italy. Church bells are being restored, and two pre-World War I-era organs will be installed to accompany the choir.

“There won’t be a square inch of this church left untouched by the artist’s brush,” Lang said.