Restoring the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Saint John

The Cathedral Heritage Foundation in Saint John is raising money to renovate the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Saint John, one of the most iconic historical buildings of the city.

It was built by Irish immigrants one hundred sixty years ago. These newcomers arrived in Canada after the Great Famine caused thousands of deaths in Ireland.

The cathedral was built one hundred sixty years ago. Picture taken by Isaac Erb, McCord Museum.
The cathedral was built one hundred sixty years ago. Picture taken by Isaac Erb, McCord Museum.

The cathedral is located in Waterloo Village, one of the poorest areas in Saint John. As part of the restoration project, the Cathedral Heritage foundation is planning to expand the community’s care services, attract new businesses and tourists into the area and bring residents back.

“The cathedral is the centerpiece of what we project to be the sustainability of a priority neighbourhood and an iconic neighbourhood in town,” said the executive director of the Cathedral Restoration project Lynn Forbes. “So part of the project also includes the repurposing of St. Vincent High School as affordable housing.”

Waterloo Village has been identified as one of the poorest areas in Saint John. The Cathedral restoration project includes a plan for urban development and revitalization of the community outreach, social programs and health services. The foundation plans to expand the community’s care services, transform the St. Vincent High school into a residence for low- income families and improve elder care services and affordable housing.  They are aiming to attract more tourists to Waterloo Village by improving access to public transportation in the area as well.

The renovation plan includes improving visitors’ experience and access to worshippers.  The stained glass windows need frame work reparation, as well as the ceramic carvings of several saints and apostles in the building. These windows have been compared to stained glass windows of Gothic churches in Europe.

“It’s a place that represents the faith of a community and the commitment of the community over all these years, over 160 years. So it’s a very important landmark to preserve,” said Bishop Robert Harris, who has worked in the restoration project since it began and has lived in Saint for almost ten years.

The roofing above the nave needs immediate reparation due to the water that has leaked throughout several years. The water has also damaged the ceiling inside the cathedral. The buttresses and external wall of the building are crumbling, as well as the artwork of the main doors.

The infiltration of water has damaged the main altar. It has a life size crucifix with carvings which need protection. The pews have also been damaged by water infiltration. The Gothic style wood carvings around the bishop’s chair, the ambo and the sanctuary screens need constant maintenance.  The ten ton organ was built in 1952 and is currently under reparation.

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The paintings and stained glass windows need special maintenance. Picture: Sara Perez

The foundation also plans to open a heritage museum and a genealogical research center for the people who visit the cathedral.  They plan to install modern exterior lighting.

They organize fundraising events almost every month and welcome donations from anyone who’s interested in giving.