Goodman Community Center | St. Bernard Chruch elevates to cathedral

St. Bernard Chruch elevates to cathedral

St. Bernard Church is now the cathedral for the Diocese of Madison and has been part of Madison’s east side since it was first organized in 1907

March 26, 2024 |
St. Bernard Parish from the parking lot.
St. Bernard Parish’s parking lot has been full of construction activity and vehicles.

By Rachael Barnack-Link, Eastside News

The sound of church bells ringing from the tower at St. Bernard Catholic Church has been replaced by construction noise with changes underway at the gothic-style church, built in 1927, on Atwood Avenue.

With official approval from Pope Francis in January, St. Bernard Church is now the cathedral for the Diocese of Madison.

“St. Bernard is a very, very beautiful space. It has good logistics for diocesan celebrations and for hosting events,” the Rev. Michael Radowicz said. “The Atwood campus revitalization is front and center in terms of life of the church.”

St. Bernard Parish has been part of Madison’s east side since it was first organized in 1907, bringing approximately 75 mostly Irish and German families together to worship. The original church at the site was a combination church and school building, completed in 1910.

Becoming the cathedral brings renovations to the property and the church. Fencing, construction vehicles, roofers and equipment are noticeable from the street. You’re sure to see the work going on if you’ve been past the site or tried to navigate its parking lot. The interior of the church has already been gutted.

“The interior will be a completely different design in harmony with the original architecture of the building,” Radowicz said.

Church bell tower
The plan is for the bell tower to contain five bells.

The plan is to bring back the original architecture of the interior of the building, including a new interior paint scheme along with upgrades and repairs. The floor has been removed to make way for a new concrete slab floor to support the weight of all the people and equipment. New pews will be installed, increasing seating capacity to approximately 700. A large section of the former school near the Capital City Path was removed to make way for more parking.

The beautiful stained-glass windows installed when the church was built will stay — two having already been restored. The remaining are being restored during the renovations. New clay roofing tiles are on the way from Europe to replace the original clay tiles that are still on the church roof.

The bell tower, which has been silent for months, will be back chiming with a special touch from the past. Two of the bells from the original bell tower at St. Raphael’s Cathedral, which burned down in 2005, are planned to return to Madison and be installed in St. Bernard’s bell tower.

“In doing research for the renovations, it was learned that two of the three bells originally at St. Raphael’s Cathedral were still available,” Radowicz said.

After the fire at St. Raphael’s, which was located two blocks off the Capitol Square, it was discovered that the three bells from the bell tower were not destroyed. The bells have been preserved and are being stored in a facility in Ohio. Design work is underway for additional structural support to the bell tower at St. Bernard so that two of the bells can be added to the St. Bernard’s three existing bells, converting the system to a five-bell peal.

Renovations to the church and the rectory are expected to be complete in late summer or fall of 2025. The revitalization then moves to the next phase — creation of an event space in the former school gym and offices. The new event space is expected to include a mezzanine, making it a multi-level space.

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