Cathedral Cleanup Slow, Costly

It's been about a month since an arsonist set fire to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, and the cleanup has been painstakingly slow. The flames from the fire caused some serious damage, but it's the smoke that caused the problems that are costing in close to a half a million dollars. The cleanup has been a long, grueling process, with noisy scaffolding stacked from the ceiling to the floor.

"When we did the restoration the first time, it was exciting," said Monsignor William O'Neill. "We were doing something. Now, it's depressing looking at it at this time, because it's something that shouldn't have happened."

The fire that was intentionally set weeks ago has left damage that the naked eye can't see. "It's the invisible damage is what's costing the money, all the smoke. There's a lot of dust on the walls and the murals," explained the monsignor. The dust has to be sponged off by hand.

It's not only been a nightmare for people who come to the cathedral regularly, but also for those who celebrated special occasions, like weddings. "We even decorated the scaffolding for the bride," said Monsignor O'Neill. "I'm trying to keep the brides happy right now."

Even though someone tried to destroy the place, there is some good that came out of it. "Maybe it will help us not take this place for granted," said Monsignor O'Neill. "It could be here today and gone tomorrow. You've got to look after these buildings."

Thirty-one-year-old Stuart Smith, the man being charged with setting the fire, is still in the Chatham County jail waiting to be indicted.

Reported by: Nicole Teigen, nteigen@wtoc.com