The $1.6 million-plus renovation of the Cathedral of the Madeleine will test the unity of Utah Catholics, according to the man who is overseeing the project.

Bishop William K. Weigand says he would like to ignore the whole restoration project forever. "But I also do not relish the prospect of going down in history as the bishop who let the cathedral and all it signifies crumble before us."The cathedral, a Salt Lake landmark since its completion in 1909, is suffering the effects of age, much as the City and County building downtown. Both buildings are made of sandstone.

The current project follows a $1 million restoration drive that was begun in 1975 by Bishop Weigand's predecessor. That $1 million goal was reached and exceeded, but workers began finding unexpected and costly problems, such as the need to reinforce steel trusses in the roof.

The previous project took five years to complete and included replacement of the copper-covered finials and casting and placement of new seven-foot gargoyles.

In an Aug. 19 article in Intermountain Catholic, Bishop Weigand detailed where funds from the new restoration drive will go. He said a new electrical system, mechanical systems, cleaning and repair of the murals and art work on the walls and ceiling are all needed. These will cost more than $1 million. Scaffolding will be an additional $250,000.

A 250-page architectural study by Beyer, Blinder and Belle of New York says the cathedral's stained-glass windows are structurally unsound and estimates a cost of about $400,000 to restore them.

Bishop Weigand is optimistic about fund-raising efforts. He said the contribution of 25,000 shares of stock from FHP International Corp. was "a great send-off for our fund-raising efforts to restore and preserve" the building.

He said additional money will come from business and community entities that consider the cathedral a historic and artistic treasure. But he said, "this support will not be forthcoming if Catholics do not lead the way with their own full commitment."

The structure, considered by many to be the most prominent cathedral in the Mountain West, is a monument to the labors of Bishop Lawrence Scanlan, the first bishop of Salt Lake (1891-1915).

A dynamic leader, Bishop Scanlan laid early plans to replace the old St. Mary's Cathedral. At first, he hoped to erect the new church on the corner of First South and Third East. But he realized there wasn't enough property on that site. He then decided on the present location at "B" Street and South Temple.

The first set of plans considered were for a plain, Romanesque-style sandstone church without towers. But later, these were altered. Instead of pure Romanesque, the style moved to a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic. One innovative feature of the building was covering three aisles under a single roof.

Ground was broken on July 4, 1899 and the cornerstone was laid on July 22, 1900.

For eight years, construction of the cathedral went forward leisurely, since it was Bishop Scanlan's desire to avoid indebtedness. Even after the main portion of the structure was completed, he refused to have the towers built or the interior decorated.

Thanks to a number of donations from Utah Catholics in 1907, Bishop Scanlan approved plans for finishing the towers, but not the spires. He also approved the installation of interior furnishings. The three altars were executed in marble and the realistic stained-glass windows were installed.

Final construction details were completed by 1909. And the cathedral as it stood then is substantially the same as it today, except for the interior decorations.

The Cathedral of the Madeleine was dedicated on Aug. 15, 1909.

The Very Rev. Joseph S. Glass became Bishop Scanlan's successor in 1915. Possessing a keen love and appreciation of art, Bishop Glass made plans for completing the interior of the cathedral.He secured the services of John Comes, one of America's most gifted architectural designers.

In 1917, a complete renovation of the interior began. Gradually, the paneling, mural paintings, stained-glass windows, and carved-wood statues filled the interior with rich color and magnificent design.

After a brief career as second bishop of Salt Lake, Bishop Glass died in 1926, leaving behind a lasting monument in the Cathedral of the Madeleine.

Next to occupy the cathedral was Bishop John Joseph Mitty, who consecrated the three marble altars in 1928. His successor, Bishop James E. Kearney, prepared for the cathedral's 1936 consecration by having twelve crosses affixed to the inner walls of the church.

Although the cathedral stood physically stable and secure for years, the elements slowly took their toll. In 1960, major repair work was undertaken on the roof.

The cathedral was officially declared a Utah State Historic Site in April 1970. The following year, it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Over the years, Salt Lake's severe freeze-and-thaw cycles have played havoc with the sandstone exterior, eroding it. Although the building was considered structurally sound in the 1970s, there was a problem with the east and west towers. The towers' eight gargoyles had virtually eroded away since the 1940s.

By 1975, Bishop Joseph Lennox Federal (bishop from 1960-1980) was forced to launch a million-dollar restoration drive, considered by many church officials the largest fund-raising drive ever to affect Utah's Catholics. That restoration project continued for five years.

When he resigned in 1980, Bishop Federal bequeathed the Cathedral of the Madeleine to Bishop Weigand, who is also focusing his attention on the cathedral's continuing restoration needs.