Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Deacon builds altar, furnishings for pope

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Laurie DeWitt⁄The Gazette
Poolesville carpenter David Cahoon, a deacon at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Barnesville, adds planks to the altar that Pope Benedict XVI will use at his papal Mass on April 17.
David Cahoon, who crafts woodwork and builds altars for local churches, says with a smile that like Jesus Christ, he has the noblest of professions. The carpenter’s career hit new heights recently, when he was selected to build an altar and furnishings to be used by Pope Benedict XVI at his papal Mass on April 17 at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.

‘‘I was tickled to be chosen,” Cahoon said. ‘‘A friend of mine said, ‘Well, Deacon Dave, from here on in, your career is going downhill, isn’t it?’”

Cahoon, 52, a Catholic deacon at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Barnesville, has worked full time as a carpenter since 1990 in his 7,000 square-foot workshop, the St. Joseph’s Carpentry Shop on Budd Road in Poolesville, just across a pond from his home.

His work has long adorned area churches, from the altar and pulpit he built last year for the historic St. Mary’s Catholic Church and Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Barnesville to the furniture he completed for the Archbishop’s Chapel in Washington, D.C. This spring, Cahoon will renovate pews used by American presidents for 200 years at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington.

Building an altar to be used by the pope, however, is ‘‘the pinnacle,” he said.

The altar, papal chair, pulpit and two lecterns Cahoon is constructing were designed by John-Paul Mikolajczyk of Staten Island, N.Y. and Ryan Mullen of Manchester, N.H., graduate students at the Catholic University of America’s School of Architecture, and winning entries in a contest sponsored by the school and the Archdiocese of Washington.

The metal-and-maple structures will each feature a repeating pattern of aluminum parabolic arches cut by water-jets by E. J. Fabricators of Baltimore. Cahoon used a blonde figural maple, which refracts light through its rippled surface, to grab attention.

While the furnishings are simple in appearance, construction has been anything but, Cahoon said. The winning plans went through months of computer-generated refinements before organizers made final decisions in February, he said. Then the metalworkers needed several weeks to cut, sand and refinish the designs.

‘‘It was hard on me being a fabricator because I just wanted to get out there and start building in January,” he said. ‘‘I was told pretty early on that I can’t be late with this one...That’s the trouble with this job, one day late and...”

Cahoon could not start cutting the wood until he had their interlocking finished product and at times, the wait seemed interminable, he said. Last week, he put finishing touches on a 10-foot-by-40-foot altar featuring in-laid crosses. He is upholstering a papal chair designed to specifications sent by the Vatican. Cahoon, a member of St. Mary’s parish, will attend the Mass on a coveted ticket he won in a church lottery. Despite having built the papal furniture for no profit, he had no guaranteed entry. He hopes to sit near his sister, Mary McGinnity of Rockville, and daughter, Jessie Cahoon of Frederick, both volunteers for the Archdiocese of Washington.

‘‘It will probably be awesome to be sitting at the Mass,” he said, ‘‘and look up and say, ‘I remember when that was sitting in my shop.’”