The crowd’s spontaneous reaction was much like that of the Solar Eclipse in the summer of 2017.
People cheered and gazed up in wonder and delight as workers lifted St. Peter Church’s gilded new steeple cross into place and it began reflecting the radiant sunlight.
The old rugged cross that had stood atop the 150-foot-tall steeple since 1883 was damaged beyond repair in a hailstorm a year ago.
The new cross is part of an extensive restoration of the church’s roof and the weather-worn stonework capping the 138-year-old walls and bell tower.
Hundreds of spectators, including the students and teachers of St. Peter Interparish School, gathered on the South Lawn of the nearby State Capitol to watch the festivities.
It was March 29, the Monday of Holy Week.
Joining them were lifelong St. Peter parishioner Edith Vogel, who donated the money to have the cross gilded in 24-karat gold, giving it remarkable power to capture sunlight.
Fr. Secrist blessed the cross with holy water and addressed the people from the steps of St. Peter Church.
Also present were Jeff Kassel of Renaissance Roofing, Missouri Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin, and Brad Copeland, diocesan director of building and properties.
Fr. Secrist said they weren’t there to “put up a decoration” but to give prominent witness to the preeminent sign of God’s mercy.
“As we look upon the cross, let us call to mind that on it, Christ brought to completion the sacrament of His love for the Church,” Fr. Secrist stated.
He prayed for God to send down His blessing on the new cross.
“May the cross be our comfort in trouble, our refuge in the face of danger, our safeguard to life’s journey, until You welcome us into our heavenly home,” he prayed.
He asked God to help everyone who passes by “grasp the mystery of the cross more clearly and experience its power more deeply.”
“As we venerate the cross, let us reflect that we ourselves as Christ’s disciples must follow Him, willingly taking up our cross each day,” Fr. Secrist prayed.
Parish Music Director Lisa Fender played a triumphant rendition of “Lift High the Cross” on the church’s organ, which could be heard outside as the crane operator began lifting the cross into place.
The cross and its copper pedestal are a little taller than their successors.
The cross-raising took place on what would have been the 104th birthday of Miss Vogel’s mother, the late Rose Mary Vogel.
Jefferson City artist and historian Jim Dyke noted on Facebook that Miss Vogel is the great-great-granddaughter of G.H. Dulle, whose home still stands at 800 St. Mary’s Blvd., overlooking downtown Jefferson City.
Mr. Dulle donated the 800,000 bricks to build the church. His son, Henry, donated the bells that still summon the faithful to worship, Mr. Dyke noted.
Mr. Kassel said it was an honor and privilege to be entrusted with the restoration and preservation of something as impressive as St. Peter Church.
“It’s clearly evident in the decisions that have been made and the actions taken that those responsible for the guardianship of this beautiful structure are true stewards of the property and are setting an example for future generations to follow,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Kehoe said it means a lot to the people of faith who work in the Capitol to have a prominent reminder nearby of God’s guiding hand.
“Every time you see a picture of Jefferson City, you can usually see the Capitol and St. Peter’s and the cross,” Lt. Gov. Kehoe noted.
He marveled at the history that took place within sight of the previous cross over nearly 14 decades.
“This edifice and this institution are such an important part of our state’s history and who we are as a body,” he said.
“True, good and beautiful”
Last spring’s hailstorm caused about $5 million worth of damage to Catholic Church property in Central Missouri.
Hailstones as large as grapefruits landed on the roofs of parish buildings of the Cathedral of St. Joseph and St. Peter in Jefferson City, Most Pure Heart of Mary in Chamois, St. Jude Thaddeus in Mokane, Church of the Risen Savior in Rhineland/Starkenburg and St. Martin in St. Martins, as well as the Alphonse J. Schwartze Memorial Catholic Center in Jefferson City.
Most of the repair costs are covered by insurance.
The old St. Peter cross was removed last November and sent to the Renaissance Roofing headquarters in Belleville, Illinois, where artisans used the cross as a model for the new cross.
The new cross was then sent to Boston for gilding.
The old cross will be kept as a historical artifact.
Fr. Secrist said he agrees with the assertion of 20th-century Catholic theologian Father Hans Urs von Balthasar that people are reflexively drawn to God and the Divine realities by what is first beautiful, and then by that which is good and true.
“We believe that God is the source of everything that is true, good and beautiful, the work of our hands and the creativity of our minds,” said Fr. Secrist.