Long-awaited diocesan hall dedicated at Sacred Heart Cathedral

(Editor’s note: See the print or e-edition of The Catholic Messenger for a special section on the Cathedral’s past and present)

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Generosity, from a widow’s mite to a $1 million gift, shaped the story behind the dedication of the new Sears Center Diocesan Hall at Sacred Heart Cathedral on Nov. 19. The spacious hall that wraps around the cathedral’s exterior walls on the west side, blends the modern with the historic, and fulfills a vision seven years in the making.

Barb Arland-Fye
Father Rich Adam, rector and pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport, speaks during the dedication of the Sears Center Diocesan Hall on Nov. 19.

Catholics and non-Catholics, civic and religious leaders celebrated the near-completion of the $6.5 million diocesan hall project that features ample gathering space for the first time, much-needed restrooms and handicap accessibility. During a sneak preview last week, and with great satisfaction, Father Rich Adam, the cathedral’s rector and pastor, used the cathedral’s first-ever elevator to go downstairs. His dog, Maggie, took the stairs.

Fr. Adam welcomed to the dedication Bishop Thomas Zinkula, Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch, Davenport Alderwoman Marion McGinnis, architect Mark Miller, construction contractor Steve Swanson and all who had gathered for the special event.

The priest shared a letter from Bishop Martin Amos, Bishop Emeritus of the diocese, who seven years ago asked Fr. Adam to look into the vision that came to fruition with the dedication. In the letter, Bishop Amos congratulated the people of the diocese, the cathedral’s parishioners and Fr. Adam. “My special thanks to Fr. Rich, who never gave up!”

Bishop Amos observed that “A holy place is not about stones and mortar, but about people, and the people of the diocese and the parish of Sacred Heart are wonderful.” While he couldn’t be present for the celebration, he said, “I look forward to coming back and celebrating in this Mother Church of the Diocese of Davenport.”

Mayor Klipsch shared his enthusiastic support of the vision for the project. He spoke of growing up Catholic and learning three basic tenets of the faith: Love God, love your neighbor and serve. “It’s a package deal,” he said. “This is a great example of the community coming together; it is bringing people together.”

Swanson, in his brief, remarks, noted “We feel blessed to be part of this … we’re not 100 percent done with the project. We’re definitely working to button things up.” He added that his family’s 50-year-old construction business is now in its third generation. “One-hundred years from now when this church is still here, we’ll feel really good about everything you have done to continue on (the cathedral’s) foundation.”

Barb Arland-Fye
Bishop Thomas Zinkula sprinkles holy water during the dedication of the new diocesan hall Nov. 19 at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport.

The Rev. John Horn, a retired biology professor of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, and dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, just a half-mile from Sacred Heart Cathedral, shared how the two cathedrals work together to make the greater community a better place.

Fr. Adam expressed certainty that the late Weir Sears was present in spirit for the diocesan hall’s dedication. Sears and his wife, Pat, pledged the $1 million gift which gave Fr. Adam “the faith and confidence that this thing was going to happen.” The hall is named after the Sear. His family members — including Pat and their four children — were present for the special occasion.

“It’s really spectacular,” said Stephen Sears, one of two sons of Pat and Weir. “We’re very proud to be a part of this and to see Fr. Rich’s vision come to be.”

“This really needed to be done,” said Lisa Ware, the eldest of the siblings.

“Through the years, our family has always come together at the cathedral, for baptisms, weddings, funerals,” Jim Sears, another sibling, said. “I can’t think of a more fitting tribute to Mom and Dad.”

This project now makes it possible “to bring the greater community together,” added Stephanie Boldt, Stephen’s twin sister.

Their family’s financial contribution inspired many others to contribute to the capital campaign to fund the diocesan hall. But the very first contributor was a beloved parishioner of modest means who donated all she could afford. Fr. Adam recalled how the Sunday after the parish launched the campaign, he saw Mary Lou Vardeman pushing her grandmother, Ann Sexton, in her wheel chair to Mass via the only handicapped accessible entrance — the east end. “Ann had an envelope in her hand and was so excited to give me her donation, a check for $100. It indeed was the widow’s mite, and a hopeful beginning to a new campaign!” Fr. Adam said. Sexton died in 2014 at age 98.

Before blessing the diocesan hall, Bishop Zinkula quipped that it was his honor to do “the bishop thing.” He noted that the new construction “will be a center for our Sacred Heart community and for the entire Diocese of Davenport, where we come to know one another and witness to our faith.” Following Scripture readings, he sprinkled the gathering space vigorously with holy water.

Jim Collins, a parishioner and co-chair of the capital campaign with Jim Tiedje, said the new diocesan hall “is what’s needed for our parish, our diocese and for our community.”

Sneak preview of diocesan hall

DAVENPORT — Before going to bed each night, Father Rich Adam walks with his dog, Maggie, through the new diocesan hall at Sacred Heart Cathedral.

“At night I come over here with Mags and I just walk around and marvel at what was, what is and what’s to come,” said Fr. Adam, the cathedral’s rector and pastor. He shared that tidbit during a sneak preview of the Sears Center Diocesan Hall, which was dedicated Nov. 19.

What’s really impressive about the new hall? The exterior walls and stained glass windows of the 126-year-old cathedral create an interior wall of the new diocesan center, like a thread connecting the past with the present.

Fr. Adam is like a little kid showing off the new hall. He takes the Catholic Messenger editor and assistant editor to a conference room adjacent to the Antoine and Marguerite LeClaire Gathering Space. “You can see the remnants of the old stairs on the north side of the cathedral’s chapel,” Fr. Adam said, pointing to the exposed cathedral wall with stained glass windows that form one wall of the conference room. “The stained glass windows have been hidden behind the air conditioner units for 30 years! People have commented how well the stone of the new center matches the cathedral,” Fr. Adam said.

A handicapped accessible ramp in the gathering space leads to the sacristy, the cathedral’s sanctuary and the chapel. The gathering space also features a wide-screen monitor and a coffee bar. While he likes that feature, he takes his guests to a special space … the west vestibule. “This is my favorite hallway,” he said. “It just looks monastic” because of its length, the exposed cathedral wall and the way the light filters in from the hall’s new windows. “It’s beautiful,” he said. The new construction has also enhanced ease of entry. “It was cumbersome to come in through the west door, but now it’s so inviting,” he said.

Earth-tone colors were chosen for the hall’s interior walls and carpeting, with light red accents in the carpet, giving the floor a brick look.

“Red is just a cathedral color,” Fr. Adam said. Sconces on the vestibule walls and throughout the diocesan hall complement the sconces in the cathedral.

A prominent feature of architect/parishioner Mark Miller’s design is the clear story in the gathering space, revealing natural light. Small gold stars accent the blue ceiling in the clear story, giving a celestial impression. The clear story gives the appearance of more space. The idea was to recreate, in an economical way, the grandeur of churches built during the Renaissance, Miller said in a later interview. “You’re looking at heaven.”

Reflecting on his mandate for this diocesan hall, Fr. Adam said: the two things (retired) Bishop Martin Amos asked for (besides a handicapped entrance) are a gathering space and more bathrooms.” The pastor proudly points out that the new diocesan hall has four restrooms, two each for men and for women, with a total of 20 stalls. Three showers have been installed in the lower-level restrooms so that retreats and other overnight events can take place. The addition of the rest rooms is a big deal. “It’s part of the hospitality and welcoming,” Fr. Adam pointed out.

He took his guests downstairs in the new elevator – a first for the cathedral. His dog Maggie Sue wanted nothing to do with the elevator and took the stairs. The lower level is built five feet below the cathedral’s basement. Ramps and stairs lead to the cathedral basement. Six classrooms and one conference room are located in the lower level, along with one office.

Outside, the parking lot has 180 parking spots and approximately 12 of those are for handicapped parking. A covered walkway, called a porte cochere, makes for more comfortable drop-offs at the hall’s entrance.

The vision for this diocesan hall came from collaboration within the parish. “As ideas were presented, architect Mark Miller, a member of the parish, came up with a plan to incorporate the old with the new. I thought, ‘This is awesome,’” Fr. Adam said. “It’s remarkable how this came together. It’s a God thing.

“After ordinations we don’t have to go to another location to celebrate; after the Chrism Mass, there will be a place to celebrate,” Fr. Adam said. “I just pray that everyone in the diocese will not only visit but feel welcomed in their cathedral.”

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