Bishop's Dinner still planned to help with Cathedral of the Madeleine financial shortfall

Friday, Jul. 03, 2020
Bishop's Dinner still planned to help with Cathedral of the Madeleine financial shortfall + Enlarge
By Linda Petersen
Intermountain Catholic

SALT LAKE CITY — While the Cathedral of the Madeleine is the mother church of the Diocese of Salt Lake City, it is also a cultural landmark in the city itself. As such, tourists flock to the cathedral, especially in the summer. 
“Part of what it means to be a cathedral is keeping the doors open every day so that anyone who wants to come in and sit quietly and pray is able to do so,” said Father Martin Diaz, the cathedral rector. “The cathedral is a sign and a reality of God’s presence in our community. It’s a symbol and a sign for us Catholics, but it’s even more than that for the larger community.”
In addition to sharing the love of God through this beautiful building, having these visitors helps the parish support the cathedral’s upkeep, as many leave generous donations. 
This season is different. Because of the pandemic, most of the normal summertime visitors have not returned, even though the cathedral never closed and socially-distanced services now are taking place. This has meant a revenue shortfall when the cathedral, and the parish, need it most.
A showpiece  of the Church in Utah, the cathedral is expensive to maintain. In the summer it costs $300 a day to keep it cool and in the winter $133 per day to heat. Along with the maintenance, normal operating costs include supporting two priests, 12 to 15 staff members, and various programs such as the extensive music program featuring the Cathedral Choir. 
“There’s just a lot of moving parts to a cathedral to keep it moving smoothly, and it takes a lot of people,” Fr. Diaz said.
All of this costs about $100,000 each month. In addition, the 27-year-old boiler recently broke, and a replacement is estimated at $180,000. The cathedral also is looking at $38,000 in damages from the recent earthquakes, and there’s a leak in the roof that’s going to be pricey to fix. 
With all of this, Fr. Diaz might be forgiven for thinking that when it rains, it literally pours. 
Even setting aside these onetime, unexpected expenses, the cathedral is looking at a more than $200,000 shortfall in the coming months and no foreseeable way to make up the difference. The Sunday collections from both parishioners and visitors are down by more than half, and even the primary means besides the offertory for the cathedral’s operating expenses, the Bishop’s Dinner, has been changed.
Traditionally held in September, the Bishop’s Dinner is a formal meal preceded by a very popular cocktail hour where participants crowd into the courtyard of the Grand America.
This year, however, because of the pandemic, “I’m not comfortable with that; I don’t think our guests would be comfortable with that,” said Patricia Wesson, the cathedral’s development director, who organizes the Bishop’s Dinner. 
Individuals who are in the high-risk category for COVID-19 are “a well-represented demographic at the dinner,” so “erring on the side of caution is important,” she said. 
Given these concerns, this year the Bishop’s Dinner will be a virtual event that will feature remarks by Bishop Oscar A. Solis and other presenters. It will be posted to the cathedral’s website Sept. 10. In the days leading up to the event, Wesson will release a series of short YouTube videos about the building and its programs, including a behind-the-scenes look at the cathedral and highlights from previous dinners. Organizers are hoping they will generate enough attention that the virtual event itself will be heavily viewed and supported.
Still, Fr. Diaz believes one major revenue source for the dinner will not be available this year. Traditionally, many parishes in the diocese purchase a table at the annual event, but this year, with most parishes just barely emerging from the shutdown themselves and struggling to keep their own lights on, he doubts they will be able to contribute much.
Both Fr. Diaz and Wesson are looking to the large corporate and individual donors, hoping they can make up the difference. They are working on putting together an exceptional presentation and are praying fervently that if they build it, the donors will come.
To donate to the upkeep of the cathedral, visit the cathedral’s website, There are provisions for onetime and ongoing donations.

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