OGDEN — Whenever storms have pelted down on St. Joseph Catholic Church in recent months and years, the Rev. Michael Sciumbato would look upward and say a little prayer.

“Please God, don’t let the rain come through the roof,” the pastor said. “Then you would see it come down the wall.”

Those and many other prayers to preserve the holy sanctuary are now being answered.

The historic church on the corner of 24th Street and Adams Avenue, referred to by some as Utah’s “Cathedral of the North,” is receiving a much-needed roof upgrade.

The new roof was made possible with the generosity of the late Wendell Covert, a former Ogden resident and lifelong parishioner who died in 2019 and left his estate to the church.

“His gift was like divine providence to me,” Father Sciumbato said. “We would have never been able to do this without him.”

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The church has needed a lot of serious repairs in recent years because it’s over a century old.

According to St. Joseph’s website, the Right Rev. Patrick M. Cushnahan is credited with seeing the church built. The property was purchased for $10,000 in 1889 and the foundation was completed the following year. Construction was delayed for several years due to an economic depression during the 1890s. Work eventually resumed and the cornerstone was laid in 1899.

St. Joseph Catholic Church, with its gothic architecture, was finally dedicated in 1902. The Utah Historical Society declared the house of worship to be a state historical monument in 1971.

Workers reroof St. Joseph Catholic Church in Ogden on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. The new roof is being funded by a donation from the estate of a deceased parishioner. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Significant work was done on the church’s 137-foot bell tower in 2012. Jim Jensen, a retired engineer and longtime parishioner, volunteered to help with the project. After building a 70-foot ladder and cleaning out several loads of bat and pigeon droppings, Jensen and his son installed 3,000 pounds of concrete to reinforce the tower, among other renovations the church could afford.

When the bell tower was solidified, the church added a religion education and offices building just north of the church in 2018.

Next came the roof, which had been leaking in several places for years. The lowest bid was more than $500,000, but it was beyond the church’s means.

Then the phone rang with news of Covert’s timely donation.

Judy Franquelin, the parish’s finance manager, said Wendell and his wife, Birdena “Birdie” Jacki Beveridge Covert, were both devoted parishioners who volunteered often and served faithfully during their years at St. Joseph. Birdie died in 2016. Wendell passed away last September. His estate yielded close to $500,000 and checks were sent to the church. With additional fundraisers, the church had enough to start repairs on the roof.

“This is definitely a gift from heaven for sure,” Franquelin said. “We were really worried. It was only going to get worse.”

Wendell and Birdie Covert. | St. Joseph Catholic Church

When asked for more information about Wendell Covert and his donation to St. Joseph, his nephew Dave Covert sent this reply: “Wendell was a very private person, as such all of his final requests were honored without ceremony.”

Father Sciumbato never met Wendell Covert but expressed his deep gratitude for his kindness and charity.  

More than 3,000 families in the Ogden area attend St. Joseph. In the pastor’s experience, it’s rare for a parishioner to leave his or her entire estate to the church, but occasionally they will send a gift.

“Oftentimes we’ll receive a gift in a will. It won’t be an entire estate but maybe $1,000 or so,” Father Sciumbato said. “People generally leave things to their family, which we understand. Since I’ve been here we’ve had three leave us substantial gifts.”

Crews from Rodac LLC started the project in April and are on schedule to finish before the end of the summer. In addition to redoing the roof in Vermont stonecrest slate to match the bell tower, the project will include some limited seismic upgrades approved by the city’s Planning Commission.

“This is definitely a gift from heaven for sure.” — Judy Franquelin

The full cost of the project will be over $600,000 and the church still needs to raise some additional funds in the $25,000 range. Beyond that are more restoration projects that will require donations, Father Sciumbato said with a smile. But he’s not worried.

“That’s what I preach every week, ‘If you haven’t made your donation to the Raise the Roof campaign, we would be more than happy to receive anything you could offer,’” the pastor said. “Every service we have, we always pray for our Raise the Roof project and to keep the workers safe. There’s a sacred scripture that says, ‘He who has begun this great work in us will be faithful to complete it,’ and that’s one of the things that keeps me going.”

There’s something special about the iconic Ogden church, with its history, the colorful stained-glass windows, wooden pews and ornate sanctuary. People are baptized and move away but eventually find their way back, Father Sciumbato said.

“There’s something about this church that’s like coming home. Everybody seems to have a connection to St. Joseph’s,” he said. “This church is visible from the freeway, and when you come over that viaduct, the spire is something you see. It’s not only for the Catholic community, but for people of faith throughout Ogden.

“This church represents a reminder that God is present and active in our lives. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Catholic or another faith, you can see the roof of that church and know God is here and watching over us.”