by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It was 7:45 a.m. on New Year’s Day when Father Harry Schneider, rector of the Cathedral of St. Peter here, opened the door to the chapel and . . .
“Oh,” he said to himself. “Well, Happy New Year. This is a wonderful way to start the year.”
Total chaos greeted his eyes. Sometime during the night, while revelers across the city were bringing down the house, something brought down about one-third of the chapel ceiling.
But it could have been worse.
“There are a number of blessings,” said Father Schneider. “There’s the fact that it fell in the night. The chapel is used a great deal. On the Saturday before, a whole wedding party was waiting in there before they went into the church.”
“We have daily Mass there and adoration on Tuesdays,” he continued, “and it’s open all day for prayer. Groups meet there at times, and there’s choir practice.”
The ceiling, which Father Schneider guesses may be 70 to 80 years old, was plaster impressed into a wire mesh that was itself attached to wooden rafters with nails. The cause of the collapse is still being investigated.
The collapse began in the corner to the left of the altar, near a statue of St. Joseph.
The damage was less than it might have been because the ceiling didn’t fall down in a big chunk, but rather “peeled” off like a banana skin. The “peeling” was limited by a light track and a seam in the mesh, according to Leon Roberts, archdiocesan director of real estate and construction.
Interestingly, a small section of the ceiling above the St. Joseph statue, the area where the collapse began, did not fall. Neither did falling debris knock over the burning vigil candle, which could have caused a fire.
Father Schneider hypothesized that the “whoosh” from the falling ceiling just blew it out.
There was considerable damage, however. A processional cross was broken, a hole the size of a golf ball was punched through a stained- glass window, some paintings on a wall were damaged, a light fixture was damaged (but can be repaired) and a piano was destroyed.
Naturally, there is some dismay among cathedral parishioners, but everyone is understanding and supportive, said Father Schneider. The parish council will meet and have to make some decisions.
A disaster recovery firm has cleaned up the scene, said Roberts. The fallen debris has been removed and bids are being taken to repair the ceiling. All the chairs and liturgical furnishings must be cleaned or replaced.
The whole project from cleanup to restoration will cost an estimated $100,000 to $120,000, he said.
Father Schneider said the cathedral is insured and a claim will be filed. He does not know how much of the restoration costs will be covered by insurance.
“I anticipate being able to start the replacement of the ceiling on Feb. 1,” said Roberts. “That will take about three weeks. There’s quite a bit of stenciling and artwork in the ceiling that has to be done. I don’t have a clue when [the artist] can start or how long that will take.”