In something akin to a test flight, Bishop Richard F. Stika rode nearly 130 feet to the top of the new Sacred Heart Cathedral in a Genie boom-lift on Thursday, a preliminary step in plans for an even bigger event in August.
“Next month we plan to cap off the construction of the steel by planting an American flag, a Papal flag, and a Christmas tree on or near the top of the cupola, which will be raised into place soon,” Bishop Stika said after returning from his “maiden voyage” to the top of the current structure.
The temporary placement of a Christmas tree on top of a new building is a tradition for some inside the construction industry.
With the cupola and a Christian cross on top of it, the height of the new Sacred Heart Cathedral will reach 145 feet (14 stories).
The bishop’s trip to the top took just a few minutes.
After receiving safety instructions from Merit Construction and Quality Machine and Welding, the bishop slipped into a safety harness and stepped inside the railings of the Genie lift. His pilot was John Nelson, a veteran lift operator.
“The ride up was smooth. John did a great job navigating us to the top of the dome– a round collar that holds the “ribs” of the dome in place,” Bishop Stika said. “Once we were up there, we could see so far and both of us reflected on the beauty that God has created.”
Thursday’s trip to the top was a rehearsal for next month– and a shakedown cruise to make sure the Bishop is comfortable fulfilling his dream of capping steel construction with a ceremony befitting the occasion. It also served another purpose.
“John said the construction workers weren’t convinced I could reach the top without backing out. He told me I earned their respect. That’s important, because I respect their work so much and I wanted to show my appreciation for what they do. I pray for them every day,” Bishop Stika said.
Bishop Stika also used the test flight to write his and Mr. Nelson’s names on one of the steel beams. Bishop Stika also added the words, “Jesus I Trust in You”, written in Latin as “lesus Confido in Te”, on one of the beams.
A small crowd of onlookers, comprised mostly of cathedral and diocesan staff members and construction company employees, nervously watched as Bishop Stika made his ascent into the beams. Their anxiousness only diminished once the leader of the Catholic Church in East Tennessee was back on solid ground.