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Work continuing...Earthquake strengthening of Timaru's Sacred Heart Basilica is expected to finish in May or June. PHOTO: CHRIS TOBIN

by Chris Tobin

Timaru’s Sacred Heart Basilica dome was damaged in the heavy hailstorm which struck Timaru two months ago.

“The damage was quite marked. You could see the indentations,” parish council chairman Gary Shand said.

The parish council and Christchurch firm C Lund & Son, the contractors working on earthquake strengthening the building, have considered options such as replacing all the copper on the dome or reusing parts of it.

“There was always going to be a cost involved, since the dome has leaked for years.”

Earthquake strengthening started in February last year and has taken longer than first anticipated.

“It’s been ticking along well and they [the contractors] are doing a good job,” Mr Shand said.

They had told the contractors not to rush as “we want it to be done right”.

The early expectation was for the 109-year-old basilica to reopen in December but this has been extended to May or June.

Masses have been celebrated at St Thomas’ Church in Mountain View Rd since the basilica was closed.

“We can’t give a definite opening date,” Mr Shand said.

The two towers have been strengthened with internal concrete walls and steel frames installed. Refurbishing of the steel windows in the dome room has been completed while the transept and nave walls are being strengthened with concrete and steel capping beams.

The basilica’s eight bells were removed and stored. The mechanisms have been redone.

When the work was finished, the basilica should be good for another 100 years, Mr Shand said.

“That is the hope.”

The Holy Family parish continued to fundraise for the work, having set a goal of $1.6million, and the Christchurch diocese has pledged its financial support.

Mr Shand said it was a “big unknown” as to what the final cost would be.

Meanwhile, Holy Family Timaru and Waimate parish priest Fr Brian Fennessy left this week to become parish priest for Lincoln and Leeston.

“It’s sad to see him go. He had a big stint here – seven years,” Mr Shand said.

“He’s done a big job with a lot happening here and Huynh has been great.”

Assistant priest Fr Huynh Tran, who was in Timaru for nearly two years, has been appointed assistant priest in Ashburton.

Fr Chris Friel will be the new Holy Family parish priest with assistant priest Fr Do Nguyen. Both have served in Timaru before.

Fr Friel was educated at St Patrick’s High School, which is now Roncalli College.