Historic ceremonial dedication rite honors restoration work, those who made it possible
By Pamela Seal
(Reprinted with permission)
"Temple. House. Presence. Prayer."
These are the words that come to mind when we dedicate the church,” said the Most Reverend Glen John Provost, Bishop of Lake Charles, as he presided at the Solemn Dedication of the newly restored Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Aug. 31.
“What was established in the early Jerusalem, we see here and now in this artistic creation of the new holy city,” Bishop Provost said in praising the massive project accomplished in the Cathedral, located at the corner of Kirby and Bilbo streets in downtown Lake Charles.
The Rite of Dedication included the anointing of the altar and walls of the church with Sacred Oil of Chrism. The use of Sacred Chrism is significant in that it is only used a few times in the life of the Church — baptisms, confirmations, Holy Orders and the dedication of a church, according to the Very Rev. Ruben J. Buller, Vicar General of the Diocese.
“Because there has been major construction in the church, the consecration of the altar with the Oil of Chrism is called for, along with the consecration of the walls of the church,” said Father Buller. The altar is new and was dedicated for the first time.
In photo at left, Bishop Provost spread the Sacred Chrism by hand completely over the top of the altar, then walked around the interior of the church anointing the walls with the Chrism by rubbing the sign of the cross with his thumb on every place there was a candle on the wall. The incensation of the altar and the church followed to signify the prayers of the people rising to God.
Concluding the dedication rite was the lighting of the altar and the church.
"And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard the great Voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling of God is with men.'” — Revelation 21: 2-3a
The four transitional deacons of the Diocese, who will be ordained to the priesthood in 2020, assisted in dressing the altar with cloths, lighting the altar candles, and lighting each candle on the walls throughout the Cathedral. In doing so, the lit candles signify the presence of God.
The sprinkling of water was also performed by the bishop after he blessed new Holy Water that was used to bless the church edifice as well
as the congregation.
Bishop Provost brought to mind the story of Zacchaeus, who climbed the sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus. He said that Monsignor Hubert Cramers, pastor of Immaculate Conception in 1910, and the people of Lake Charles were much like Zacchaeus, who wanted Christ present in their midst.
Dating back more than a century, the existing structure of the Cathedral, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was dedicated for the first time in 1913. The Great Fire of 1910 destroyed many of the buildings in downtown Lake Charles, including the Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception. Monsignor Cramers assumed the task of rebuilding the church, which has gone through minor changes throughout the decades.
The Cathedral is the third structure to house the Catholic parish in downtown Lake Charles. The first was named for Saint Francis de Sales in 1869. A marker on the Kirby Street side of the property marks its location. It was damaged by a hurricane in 1879. The Rev. Michael Kelly, pastor at the time, repaired it and requested that it be rededicated to the Immaculate Conception in 1881. This was the structure that was destroyed in 1910.
One of the goals of the “Return to the Lord” capital campaign was to restore the historic nature of the Cathedral and to ensure the longevity of the structure. From the beginning, the project has always been a restoration rather than a renovation.
“While removing the acoustical tiles which covered the walls of this church for longer than anyone could remember, the workers discovered a treasure,” explained Bishop Provost.
The discovery revealed a Latin inscription stenciled in 1939. The prayer, written across the upper walls of the Cathedral, comes from the fourth century prayer Tota pulchra es, translated “You are all beautiful, Mary” referring to the Virgin Mary. It speaks of her Immaculate Conception, taking some text from the book of Judith (Chapter 15) and some text from the Song of Songs, Chapter 4.
Paying homage to the Blessed Mother, Bishop Provost said, “All of this was made possible because a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph said yes. All the brick and mortar, the wood and marble, the stained glass and plaster, fell into its predestined place, because someone said yes; someone believed.
“She had faith. They had faith. We have faith,” continued Bishop Provost. “All of this developed to its climax in the present restoration because God wanted to maintain his dwelling in us. There was nothing accidental here, nothing superficial. It was quite intentional,” he said of the extensive restoration efforts, made possible through contributions to the capital campaign fundraising efforts initiated in 2016.
Bishop Provost made note of the charity, enthusiasm and interest in the faithful of the Diocese, including the pastors of each church parish. “Without them and the involvement of their (campaign) leaders and their pastors, we would never have begun the project,” he said. “Their generosity was an inestimable contribution.”
He also offered his “heartfelt gratitude” to Edward “Buzzy” Ribbeck, project manager, and his staff; Conrad Schmitt Studios, design consultant; and subcontractors, some of whom showed great favor. Bishop Provost spoke in Spanish as he extended a special message of appreciation to the many construction workers in attendance. Credit was also given to Emil Frei and Associates who completed restoration work on the stained glass windows, which were installed in the 1930s. Their family goes back several generations in the history of the Cathedral.
Special thanks was given to Father Buller, liaison to the restoration project, as well as the Very Rev. Rommel P. Tolentino, rector of the Cathedral and pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish.
Also in attendance for the historic dedication were visiting bishops from Louisiana and Texas, including Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans, priests and deacons of the Diocese of Lake Charles, representatives from church parishes, public officials, and parishioners of the Cathedral.
The anniversary of the dedication will be celebrated each year on Aug. 31 with the rank of Solemnity in the Cathedral itself and the rank of Feast in the other churches of the Diocese of Lake Charles.