Saturday, October 09, 1999

Cathedral caretaker oversees all

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — While parishioners seek salvation at the historic Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, maintenance man Chris Bagialtsalief is there to make sure the roof doesn't leak, the plumbing doesn't fail and the gargoyles don't fall apart.

        Mr. Bagialtsalief, who came to Northern Kentucky about four years ago by way of Brazil and Chicago, likes the atmosphere of the church, where the ceiling and architecture stretch to the skies and there are murals and artwork everywhere.

        “I love it. It's peaceful,” said Mr. Bagialtsalief, 39, who used to keep high-rise buildings in Chicago in shape.

        Although his title is “maintenance man,” Mr. Bagialtsalief is a licensed building engineer who frequently makes use of his plumbing, electrical and air-conditioning training while maintaining the cathedral and a handful of other buildings on Cathedral Square.

        He also communicates with the cathedral's Spanish-speaking parishioners and recruits his two sons — Daniel, 15, and Bruno, 9 — to do dusting, cleaning and minor maintenance work.

        “He does a good job around here and adds a little something to it,” said Barry Mang, director of the Cathedral Foundation.

        “The building is in good shape. He works at it.”

        Mr. Bagialtsalief understands that he works in a unique environment. The ca thedral is a Gothic-style church that is fashioned after Notre Dame in Paris and attracts about 70,000 visitors a year.

        He likes to peer over the church's interior. He can do so from a columned area that hovers high above the church's pews.

        He also will travel 167 spiraling, dizzying steps to get a close look at the church's gargoyles, which stand guard on the church's highest posts. The hooved, fanged and horrific-looking creatures are meant to ward off evil spirits.

        Mr. Bagialtsalief said he and the gargoyles have built up a relationship over the years. He was disappointed when a bolt of lightning took off a set of horns. Luckily, he was able to find both horns on the church grounds.

        He has saved them and wants to make the necessary repairs.

        “It blew the horns off of one of my buddies,” said Mr. Bagialtsalief, still amazed.


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