Established in 1850, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston comprises the entire state of West Virginia, a state with a population of approximately 1.8 million and 116,000 Catholics. In 2011, the diocese initiated a major reorganization project for the campus of St. Joseph Cathedral, where the diocese had outgrown its existing 1950s-era chancery that houses the diocese’s administrative offices.

Located in Wheeling, WV, the existing campus included numerous buildings serving the area’s Catholic community: St. Joseph Cathedral, a chancery, rectory and archives, as well as a high school and elementary school. Plans for the reorganization included closing the existing elementary school due to low enrollment and renovating the building into a new chancery.

What’s more, the design involved the construction of a central courtyard and a garden dedicated to the Virgin Mary, creating public spaces to stand the test of time for the community’s enjoyment. A new fountain in the courtyard would add the elements of movement and sound for an inviting yet serene gathering area.

Different finishes

In 2011, the diocese closed the elementary school, and renovations for the new chancery and public space commenced. An existing courtyard of concrete unit pavers and wall systems was removed, and new paving in Mesabi Black® granite from Coldspring, based in Cold Spring, MN, was installed. Granite was selected not only for its beauty and durability, but also for its versatility.

“We used the same Mesabi Black granite for many elements in this project — from fountains and pools to paving and steps,” said Michael Stern, principal of Strada Architecture, with offices in Pittsburgh, PA, and Philadelphia, PA. Mesabi Black is known for its medium black and gray hues, which are more or less pronounced depending on the finish selected.

In total, the project included approximately 6,000 square feet of Mesabi Black in three finishes: Diamond® 100, Diamond 10 and Diamond 8. The Diamond series offers subtle variations in color, tone and texture. For pavers and stair treads, Diamond 100 was selected because its rough-hewn texture provides an ideal, slip-resistant surface for pedestrian areas, as well as its sparkling effect in sunlight.

Mesabi Black in a Diamond 8 finish produces a slightly darker shade than Diamond 100 and with less texture. It was selected for cubic benches in the Marian garden area, the fountain’s paving and coping, and the main fountain feature. Diamond 8 also provided the ideal finish for a pedestal for a statue of the Virgin Mary, which stands peacefully in the Mary Garden outside the archives building.

Diamond 10 produces the lightest shade of the three finishes selected and was chosen for the pedestal of the St. Joseph statue located in the plaza, as well as the plaza paving around the tree bosque.

“By varying the finishes, we created different looks with the same stone,” explained Stern. Using a variety of finishes with one stone allowed the fabricator to maximize usage while providing the variety the design team desired.

The base of the existing rectory adjacent to St. Joseph Cathedral is sandstone, which was also selected for key design elements on the chancery’s new wing. In addition to sandstone, other natural stones are present at the site, such as limestone on the existing St. Joseph Cathedral.

“With the variety of natural stones at the site, the use of granite for all walkway areas creates a uniform contrast on the ground plane,” said the architect. “Granite was the unifying material at the site — tying together all the other materials.”

Precise fabrication

Computer-aided design (CAD) was essential for the fabrication of two pieces of stone in particular: the fountain’s base and bowl. Coldspring provided design and detailing assistance when needed for the more complex pieces. Engineering support from Coldspring was essential to the project’s success, as well as a supportive relationship among all team members.

“Coldspring was very engaged in working with us as the designers,” said Stern. “They were able to take our design drawings and implement them with precision. The pieces they fabricated were really well-executed. Finding someone who is up to the task of the installation and who really understands the products and materials for the project is critical.”

Completed in 2014, the project for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston has created an updated modern campus that better fits the diocese’s needs. “I think the diocese is very happy with the way the project turned out,” said Stern. “It’s resulted in a whole new public space for the campus. We were able to open up an area to be enjoyed by the Catholic community and the people of Wheeling.”         

St. Joseph Cathedral campus

Wheeling, WV

Architect: Strada Architecture, Pittsburgh, PA, and Philadelphia, PA

Stone Supplier/Fabricator: Coldspring, Cold Spring, MN