Resurrecting history: Repairs continue at St. Mary Basilica

July 17, 2012

GALVESTON — Repairs at St. Mary Basilica, the first Cathedral of Texas, are still underway in Galveston. Damaged heavily during Hurricane Ike in September 2008, the Basilica is being repaired from the ground up.

Father Joseph Limanni, Director of Special Projects for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, was assigned to oversee Basilica restoration in November 2009. Since then, the roof has been replaced, the pews have been rebuilt and refinished, asbestos removal has been done on the rectory and church, steel armature reinforcements have been added to the two front spires, the confessionals and Stations of the Cross have been refinished, and exterior masonary repairs, coating and chemical remediation has all been completed. Breathable silicone paint was put over the stucco so water does not penetrate through the walls.

The Basilica still needs a new concrete structure to support the floor, which is currently being supported by wood beams. The Basilica also needs a new water line, speaker equipment, drain system and electrical system. 

"The mortar is failing on the floor," Father Limanni said. Currently some of the floor has been removed from the Basilica, exposing the brick and wood that was the church's foundation for more than 150 years. 

Another major project will be to repaint the interior walls, which were previously painted using latex paint. Father Limanni said that all the old paint will be removed and replaced with Venetian plaster.

"That's 162 years of various paint jobs," he said.

While the Mother Church may have a long way to go before Mass can be celebrated there again, Limanni remains hopeful, taking things one step at a time.
"This could be very nice someday," he said. "I hope it will."

- The board in the upstairs area of the St. Mary Basilica still shows the songs that would have been played for Sunday services Sept. 14, 2008. 
- A closer look at the failing morter that was the foundation to the floor.
- Several statues, including ones of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony and the child Jesus, will be showcased at the front of the church. 
- The current wood joints holding up the floor will be replaced with concrete. At that time, the size of the footings underneath the columns will be increased. 
- The Basilica needs a new water line, speaker equipment, drain system and electrical system. 
- The walls will be repaired and repainted with breathable silicone paint. 
- Roof repairs were completed December 2010.
- Though St. Mary Cathedral Basilica is not the oldest church in Texas, it is the first cathedral of the first diocese in the state. 

May 1847 — The Catholic Diocese of Galveston is established. At that time, the diocese comprised the entire state.
1848 — Original structure of the cathedral is dedicated.
1876 — Galveston architect Nicholas Clayton adds transept tower to roof of the sanctuary. 1878 — A new bell, and a cast-iron statue of "Mary, Star of the Sea," is added to the bell tower.
1884 — Two front towers are heightened to bring them into proper proportion with the central tower.
1900 — The Great Storm ravishes the Galveston coast.
1907 — Commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Diocese of Galveston and of the Cathedral, many improvements are made within the Cathedral: 
* The sanctuary floor is re-finished in mosaic tile. 
* A new main altar of marble is erected. * Stained glass windows are set into place throughout the church. 
* Exterior of the Cathedral and the rectory residence are refinished in stucco.
1918 — Bishop Gallagher‘s body is interred beneath the floor of the church by the Marian altar.
1921 — Marble altar railing and steps are installed, two marble side altars are erected
and the interior is redecorated. The organ in the choir loft is equipped with 3,000 pipes fitted from wall to wall.
1968 — St. Mary Cathedral is named a historical landmark. 
1973 — St. Mary Cathedral is named to the National Register of Historic Places. 
Aug. 1979 — Pope John Paul II elevates the Cathedral to a "Minor Basilica," an honor bestowed on select churches because of their antiquity or historical importance.
Sept. 2008 — Hurricane Ike hits the Galveston-Houston area, greatly damaging St. Mary Cathedral Basilica.
Nov. 2009 — Father Joseph Limanni assigned to oversee Basilica restoration. Michael Gaertner Architects is engaged for project.
Nov. 2010 — Pews are rebuilt and refinished. Asbestos is removed on rectory and church.
Dec. 2010 — Roof on rectory and church is replaced.
Feb. 2011 — Exterior masonary repairs, coating and chemical remediation is completed.
Apr. 2011 — Interior appointments, confessionals and Stations of the Cross are refinished.
Nov. 2011 — Structural steel reinforcement of two front spires is completed.
May 2012 — Column base reinforcement, floor replacement and truss reinforcement work begins.
July 2012 — Plaster repairs begin.