Three historic Catholic churches receive preservation awards

By Maria Wiering
mwiering@CatholicReview.org

Twitter: @ReviewWiering
Three Catholic sacred spaces in Baltimore received honors June 20 for historical preservation efforts. Baltimore Heritage recognized the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Shrine of St. Alphonsus and St. Mary’s Chapel at its annual awards dinner, held this year at Mill No. 1 along Falls Road.
The three churches were the only religious sites among the historic and architectural preservation organization’s 11 awardees.
Companies associated with recent projects at the basilica and St. Mary received two of seven restoration and rehabilitation awards.
From August 2012 to March 2013, the 192-year-old basilica in Mount Vernon underwent $3 million in repairs for structural damage sustained in a 2011 earthquake. Designed by U.S. Capitol architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the church is the nation’s first Catholic cathedral.
Its Baltimore Heritage award honored the contributions of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Cho Benn Holback and Associates, Lewis Contractors, Keast and Hood Company and Alan Gilbert Photography.
“It’s been great to work on the basilica, certainly one of the greatest buildings in the city of Baltimore,” said George Holback, principal architect with Cho Benn Holback and Associates, who spoke for the award winners. “It was a fantastic team effort.”
The Sulpician Fathers initiated an extensive interior restoration of St. Mary’s Chapel in 2011. The nine-month, $1 million project was part of a comprehensive renovation of the Paca Street complex, which once housed the first U.S. Catholic seminary. The chapel was founded in 1808 and was restored to its centennial year appearance.
Sulpician Father John C. Kemper, executive director of St. Mary’s Spiritual Center and Historic Site, accepted the award on behalf of the Associated Sulpicians of the United States, Kann Partners, Lewis Contractors, Thomas Moore Studios and Giorgini Construction.
“The chapel is a hidden gem in the upper west side of Baltimore,” he said, praising the work of the architects, craftsmen and artisans who worked on its restoration. “These crafts simply reflect the beauty that reaches into the root of God himself.”
Monsignor Arthur W. Bastress was the sole recipient of Baltimore Heritage’s Historic Preservation Award, which acknowledged his leadership in the exterior restoration of the St. Alphonsus in Midtown.
Accompanying Monsignor Bastress was Irene Mann, St. Alphonsus’ development director, and Doug Johnson, a capital project manager for the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
In the past 12 years, the parish has stabilized the 168-year-old church’s steeple, electrified bells, replaced doors, leveled steps, repointed masonry, replaced roofs and restored stained glass windows, at a cost of $4 to 5 million dollars.
A Baltimore native, Monsignor Bastress, 87, is passionate about the preservation of the city’s Catholic churches as signs of the city’s Catholic history. He sees efforts to restore St. Alphonsus as an act of stewardship, and hopes to begin restoring the interior soon.
“I want to preserve that part of people’s lives that got people to where they are,” he said.
Johns Hopkins, Baltimore Heritage’s executive director, called people’s commitment to the honored churches “fantastic.”
“It is a sign that all parts of Baltimore are experiencing a renaissance,” he said. “It’s great to see that these projects can come from so many different directions.”
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