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Award Fund-raiser Set to Benefit Cathedral Restoration

The inaugural presentation of the Keys and Sword Award by the Catholic diocese to Bishop Emeritus Elliott G. Thomas will benefit the multimillion dollar effort to preserve the historic Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral. Named for the symbols of the two patron saints of the cathedral, the award is given for selfless dedication and outstanding service.

Thomas will be given the award at a formal dinner-dance Feb. 6 at Marriott Frenchman’s Reef Grand Ballroom. Proceeds from the event will benefit the cathedral restoration fund.

Born in Pittsburgh, Penn., to a family from Tortola, Bishop Thomas spent much of his early life on St. Thomas and graduated from Charlotte Amalie High School in 1945. He attended college on the mainland and worked as a pharmacist both in the States and on St. Thomas, where he eventually opened Cathedral Pharmacy.

He converted to Catholicism relatively late in life and was already in his 50s when he entered the priesthood. He was appointed bishop in 1993. Although he retired in 1999, he continues to assist at parishes whenever possible.

The idea for the Keys and Sword award originated with the current bishop, His Excellency Herbert A. Bevard. Noting his predecessor’s reputation for humility, he said Bishop Thomas had demurred at first, but agreed to accept the honor in order to help preserve one of the Virgin Islands’ most treasured landmarks.

Launched in 2001, the restoration project has now made it through Phase I, which included architectural studies and project assessments, as well as some physical improvements to surrounding property. Phases II and III will include major reconstruction, electrical and plumbing updates and some aesthetic improvements.

The building is 161 years old, and is actually the fourth church built on the Kronprinsens Gade site in Charlotte Amalie, previous structures having been destroyed by fires and hurricanes.

Water is the primary culprit this time. Msgr. Jerome Feudjio, rector of the cathedral, said water flowing down the hillside has been silently undermining the foundations “since they built the place.” When the restoration project began, people were shocked to discover major erosion at the base of many of the cathedral’s pillars. “Some of them are not really supporting anything.” So another component of the restoration is water diversion.

The total cost of the project is not yet clear, but Feudjio said the diocese is seeking a $1.5 million line of credit. And the hope is that the Keys and Sword benefit will jump-start the fund-raising.

The event begins at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 6 with a champagne reception. Dinner is a plated, three-course meal featuring filet mignon and lobster (with a vegetarian menu also available). There will be a silent auction and raffle, photos, and dancing to the music of Milo’s Kings. Free shuttle service is available from Fort Christian.

Tickets are $150 and $90 of each ticket is tax-deductible. They are available at the following locations:

  • On St. Thomas at the UVI bookstore, Interiors, Dockside Bookshop, Discount Travel, Home Again, Shoe Tree, and parish offices;
  • On St. Croix, by calling Rita de Chabert-Schuster, 778-8386; Ann Abrahamson, 772-4287; or Julia Pankey 772-3042;
  • On St. John at Connections in Cruz Bay and Coral Bay and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church.

For more information, contact Gail Shulterbrandt at 775-7547 or email bernetia.akin@gmail.com.

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