Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral Dome makes history

reprinted from NC Catholics magazine, May, 2016

It’s 6:30 in the morning. Sunlight has barely fallen. Two cars sit in a parking lot off Raleigh’s Centennial Parkway. It’s quiet. The weather’s strangely warm for early March – about 60 degrees. Birds chirp. Boots crunch on gravel paths. Nearby businesses are still hours away from opening.

Construction workers – in hard hats, neon vests and sunglasses – seem to dot the site where the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral is being built. They shake hands, nod heads and greet each other like old friends.

It’s a unique day. There are more onlookers and fewer construction workers than usual. A 162-ton, copper-topped dome is prepped for what many are simply calling “the lift.” Only personnel necessary to this task, on this day, are here. Engineers, steel fabricators and builders bear the weight of this part of the historic project. About 150 yards from the dome sits the on-site trailer for Clancy & Theys Construction Company. Inside are architectural drawings, a cross in the window and a large table with at least 10 empty chairs. For now, meetings are over. The decision that the lift is “a go” has already been made.


That judgement wasn’t arrived at lightly. Professionals, who considered factors such as wind speed, relied on their calculations. Luckily, wind moved between 10 and 12 miles per hour, well below the 18 mph figure that would have delayed the dome’s placement. The crane, engineers said, was ready to do its work. It had traveled to Raleigh a week before from Edmonton, Canada, the site of its last job. Twenty-five tractor trailers brought it here in pieces that were assembled over a weekend.
This particular crane – a Liebherr LR1400, or lattice boom crawler – weighed 358,000 pounds. Engineers Jim Jatho and Keith Rind, of the Buckner Companies Heavylift Cranes division, said it’s often used for projects such as wind farms, oil refineries and stadiums.

The crane couldn’t be just set out on the red-clay ground, though. Things needed to be precise. Mathematical. The ground had to be strengthened and compacted to hold the weight of the crane and the dome. A hardwood mat – measuring a foot thick – sat beneath the crane.

“The tray is positioned to balance … it works like a see-saw,” Rind said when asked to explain the concept in layman’s terms.

Counter weight – around 923,000 pounds of it – was required for balance and to allow the crane to secure and move the dome. Some asked why the dome, which is about five stories tall, had to be moved in the first place. Why was it built on the ground instead of on top of building’s frame? “If you think about the [16,000] man hours that went into it … having so many man hours up that high … the risk is big,” Cara Greening, business and development director for Clancy & Theys, said. “On the ground, they could scaffold it all the way around properly. It was a more controlled environment.”


Just before 8 a.m., onlookers saw what they’d been waiting for: the crane began to move the dome. Most people pointed cameras toward the dome with its shiny roof. Some people hugged and talked; others were silent. Wayne Poole, who stood on Agnes Street with his wife Nancy, proclaimed: “It’s moving up.”
“We have been following [the construction] the whole time,” Nancy Poole said. “I really was tying this in with the raising of Christ. To have this come together during Lent? It’s special.” For his part, her husband amused onlookers by joking that Western Boulevard is what separates Church and State … as in N.C. State University. Nearby an 8-year-old girl, Yaritza Real, watched the lift with adults. “It’s kinda cool, and it looks heavy … and pretty,” Yaritza, who goes to Saint Mary Church in Garner and attends year-round school, said.

Rob Howard, a parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes, watched the lift with his wife Mandy. For him, it was about being a part of the campaign and seeing the culmination of the dome event. “It represents so much … and it’s also just a sheer, amazing feat.”

Julie McVay, also a parishioner at Lourdes, watched with amazement, too. “This is just wonderful … for the diocese and the whole Church,” McVay, 91, said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge hadn’t either. As the dome seemed to hang in a picturesque blue sky, he said to the faithful near him, “My heart is pounding.” Once the dome began to nestle into place, the beeping and horn noises stopped. In their place were sounds of mallet-like tools coaxing metal into metal.

Cathedral architect Jim O’Brien, who traveled from northern Virginia for the event with his wife Susan, said it was hard for him to connect the moments when he was initially drawing the plan to this moment of dome placement. To him, it seemed like a long time between the two. “Today is really an engineering achievement … for the steel fabricators [from Steel Fab Steel Construction], Buckner and the builder…this is really their day,” O’Brien said. “Like ‘Tick’ [Clancy] said, he’s just so glad it fit.”


The project is estimated to be complete in mid 2017. While it’s exciting to think about, those at Clancy & Theys and Baker Roofing view tasks day by day. For Baker Roofing’s Vince Latona, who worked on the dome with his son Domenick, the challenges of getting the radius right, caring for panels correctly and cold temperatures are over. They’re replaced with future tasks such as finishing the top of the dome and, later, adding the 6-foot, hollow cross to the top of the dome.

But Latona, who recently led the restoration effort of the Topeka, Kansas capitol building’s dome, is positive about what’s ahead and his team of 45. For Greening and the folks at Clancy & Theys, work goes on, too. It’s Cathedral work, sure. But it’s also one link in a chain that began decades ago when the founders of the company built Our Lady of Lourdes Church. Over time they’ve collaborated on 170 projects – both large and small – with the diocese.

“Tick doesn’t care about the fanfare. This isn’t his comfort zone,” Greening said about Joel ‘Tick’ Clancy’s response to the historical “dome” day with its onlookers, photographers and news trucks.

That early morning sun that brought out the spectacle and accomplishment will rise again. Workers in hard hats will greet each other. Boots will continue to crunch gravel. Food trucks will roll in for lunch time and roll out when it’s over. Each day will bring new work and progress, from the installation of the stained glass windows to the trimming of the dome’s interior. Each task is a step toward fulfilling a plan that started with years of feasibility studies and discussions about why Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral would have a place in the growing Diocese of Raleigh.

“The Cathedral is a powerful sign of God in our midst. [People] who are so busy … all of us. This makes you stop. And it makes you look up … and reminds us that’s where our eyes must always be fixed: to the life that is to come,” Bishop Burbidge said. “And it’s within the Cathedral that we are strengthened for our journey … I hope this Cathedral is a sign of God in our midst and keeping our eyes fixed on what is above.”


1: Other dome in the Diocese of Raleigh (The Basilica Shrine of Saint Mary in Wilmington, which was originally built to be a cathedral, is the only other church with a dome.)

8: Contact points (posts) where dome was “seated” to fit into cathedral building

16,000: man hours to build the dome

25: Tractor trailer loads to transport the crane, which was transported in pieces

31: minutes of active crane movement from initial lift to placement

13: weeks of dome construction before its placement day

14: Days to install the copper roof

16: windows, rectangle shape with a round top, on the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral dome

18: miles-per-hour wind speed that would have delayed dome placement

55: Dome diameter in feet

65: Dome height in feet, about the height of the average five-story building

162: Tons that the dome weighed on its placement day (It’s the equivalent of 324,000 pounds, or about 54 elephants.)

3,000: Approximate square footage inside the dome