Brian T. Olszewski, The Catholic Virginian

For the first time since 2006, the bishop of the Diocese of Richmond will be residing in the building that was constructed in 1907 as the bishop’s residence in Richmond.

Following renovations to the building, which had served as offices for the diocese­­­­­’s Tribunal from 2006 to 2008, and as offices for the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart since 2008, Bishop Barry C. Knestout will reside at 800 S. Cathedral Place. If work proceeds on schedule, he will move there sometime before Christmas.

Noting the residence is “architecturally, theologically and culturally” important to the history of the diocese and the city of Richmond, Bishop Knestout said, “The community has been overwhelmingly supportive of converting that building back into the bishop’s residence — its original intended purpose.”

Since his installation as bishop of the diocese on Jan. 12, Bishop Knestout has been living with the priests at St. Bridget Parish, Richmond, as he considered options for a permanent residence.

Planning began in 2015

Planning for a new bishop’s residence began in 2015 when, according to Michael McGee, chief financial officer of the Diocese of Richmond, the Diocesan Finance Council began making funding plans for the next bishop’s residence.

Through the sale of four properties — Bishop DiLorenzo’s original residence and retirement home, the late Bishop Walter F. Sullivan’s retirement home, and a property left to the diocese in the estate of the late Father David Nott — $1.1 million was raised to support the next bishop’s choice of residence. Only a portion of that amount has been used for renovating the residence.

“That was money meant to be used for a new residence for the bishop and for his transition to the diocese,” McGee said. 

Over several months, Bishop Knestout, along with Deacon Paul Mahefky, director of real estate for the diocese, and others, looked at several properties, including the bishop’s residence at the Cathedral, which the bishop termed “ideal.”

“It is well-suited in terms of design and plan for what a bishop does and for the expectations of his office,” said Bishop Knestout, noting that if a different house had been purchased, extensive renovations would have been required in order to accommodate the bishop, especially with an eye toward his official duties.

The space in the residence that had originally been designated as a chapel, but which had been used as office space, is being restored for its original purpose. (Photo/Joseph’Son General Contractor)

‘Best investment’

Because of the age of the former bishop’s residence, and since it was used for offices, McGee said there’s “a lot of deferred maintenance.”

“There are going to be costs associated with that, but this is the best investment as opposed to buying another piece of property,” he said. 

Bishop Knestout did two walkthroughs of the residence.

“During the initial one the bishop got a sense of the place and of what needed to be done. Then we prepared the drawings,” McGee said. “On the second one, he said he wanted a handicapped accessible bathroom on the first floor. That was really the only change.”

As with anyone moving into a new residence, Bishop Knestout also asked that a home inspection be done.

“We had a third party come in and do a comprehensive home inspection,” McGee said. “The bishop said: ‘Let’s take care of what’s necessary in the home inspection.’” 

‘Caring for architectural treasure’

The bishop is planning to make do with what is there and having only necessary repairs done.

“We’re taking a minimal approach; we’ll put in new carpet where necessary and refinish the hardwood floors,” Deacon Mahefky said. “We’ve got good bones in there so we’re really just keeping the bones and painting them.”

According to Deacon Paul Mahefky, diocesan director of real estate, minimal work is being done, e.g., painting cabinets and replacing the kitchen counter top, to renovate the building into the residence for Bishop Barry C. Knestout. (Photo/Joseph’Son General Contractor)

Cabinets are being painted, the kitchen counter top and the stove are being replaced. Much of Bishop DiLorenzo’s furniture will be used to furnish the residence. The deacon described it as “very spartan.” 

He noted the bishop took the proposal for the residence’s renovation to the diocesan Building and Renovation Commission.

“He followed all the guidelines for building and renovation in the diocese,” Deacon Mahefky said. “He didn’t skip a step.”

Bishop Knestout said that with the diocese’s bicentennial in 2020, renovation of the bishop’s residence provides another opportunity to highlight the history and the beauty of the Cathedral.

“As one who has studied, knows and appreciates architecture, I appreciate the importance of caring for the architectural treasures of our diocese, and this is certainly one of them,” he said.

The architect for the project is Franck & Lohsen from Washington; the general contractor is Joseph’Son General Contractor, LLC from Ashland.