Above, at his St. Joseph's Carpentry Shop in Poolesville, Deacon Dave Cahoon builds the maple base, below, for the altar for Pope Benedict XVI's April 17 Mass at Nationals Park. The carpenter is completing the papal altar and chair designed by two Catholic University students. Below, artist and blacksmith Greg Campbell works to smooth the finish of the metal tracery for the altar that will be used for Pope Benedict's Mass.
Above, at his St. Joseph's Carpentry Shop in Poolesville, Deacon Dave Cahoon builds the maple base, below, for the altar for Pope Benedict XVI's April 17 Mass at Nationals Park. The carpenter is completing the papal altar and chair designed by two Catholic University students. Below, artist and blacksmith Greg Campbell works to smooth the finish of the metal tracery for the altar that will be used for Pope Benedict's Mass.
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For Deacon Dave Cahoon, working at his St. Joseph's Carpentry Shop on a quiet country road in Poolesville, it was a Holy Week like no other.

"How awesome is this? It's Holy Thursday, and I'm working on the altar for the Eucharist, for the Papal Mass. How awesome is that?" he said, smiling.

With a hammer and chisel, the carpenter worked on a long maple board for the base of the altar that Pope Benedict XVI will use for his April 17 Mass at Nationals Park in Washington.

"This is an awesome job to have," said Deacon Cahoon, who has worked as a carpenter for nearly three decades, fashioning many church and home furnishings over the years at his shop, which includes a sawmill. "I can take it in from a tree to the finished product."

The day before Holy Thursday, he picked up the metalwork for the altar, which was designed by two Catholic University of America graduate students, John-Paul Mikolajczyk and Ryan Mullen. They also designed the papal chair and the ambo that will be used at the Mass.

"I prepared everything weeks ago and waited. Now I've got my Holy Week enterprise!" the carpenter said, chuckling.

Deacon Cahoon graduated from Good Counsel High School in Wheaton in 1974, and was a classmate of Greg Campbell, an artist and blacksmith who oversaw the production and completion of the altar's ornate metal framework.

"It's gonna look awesome," said Deacon Cahoon, who has completed dozens of carpentry jobs for the Archdiocese of Washington, including building the mobile altar used for the Mass for Life that follows a youth rally each January at the Verizon Center. He praised the work of craftsmen who participated in building the papal altar at each step, and he praised the work and spirit of the students who designed the pieces.

The carpenter has crafted doors for an icon screen at Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Potomac, and an upcoming job includes renovating and refurbishing all the wooden pews at St. John's Episcopal Church, on Lafayette Square across the street from the White House.

In the archdiocese, he crafted the pews for St. Patrick's Church in Washington, refurbished pews for St. Peter's Church in Olney, made the altar and renovated the steeple at St. Mary, Mother of God Church in Washington, and built the portable altar for Mary of Nazareth School in Darnestown.

Working on the papal altar "is the highlight of my craft. It's all gonna be downhill from here," the carpenter said.

Nearby, the ambo for the papal Mass and the papal chair, also crafted in maple by Deacon Cahoon, were nearly complete. "I'm gonna have hundreds of hours in this thing. On a project like this, you really work on one piece at a time," he said. Later, he smiled when contemplating the tight deadline for building the furniture for the papal Mass. "One day late won't make it!" he said, laughing.

The year after Pope John Paul II visited Washington in 1979, Dave Cahoon had been offered a job at the National Institutes of Health after doing graduate work in physics at Catholic University. He had been doing carpentry during his summers between classes, to help pay for his education.

"I realized I really enjoyed carpentry," he said of the profession he took up. Growing up in St. Mary's Parish in Rockville, he had taken the Confirmation name of Joseph, and when he opened a carpentry shop, he named it after St. Joseph, a carpenter who became the patron saint of carpenters.

"Here was a patron saint, working behind the scenes in my life," he said. "I had always liked woodworking, but I never thought of it as a career."

Deacon Cahoon and his wife Rani, have two young adult daughters, Casey and Jessie. His sister, Mary McGinnity, serves as executive director of the archdiocese's Department for Social Concerns.

Ordained a deacon in 1991, he serves at St. Mary's Church in Barnesville, which he said has been "like coming home."

"I was on the phone to get enough feet for washing tonight" at the Holy Thursday Mass, Deacon Cahoon said, adding that he would be preaching the next day at the Good Friday liturgy at the country church, and participating in the Easter Vigil there.

"I get the greatest charge doing anything around the Eucharist, bringing the Eucharist to the homebound, being there (at the altar) when Jesus comes," he said. "...It's very humbling when you can bring the Eucharist to someone. That's when a person meets their God."

At his home church of St. Mary's in Barnesville, he built the new altar. "I get to kneel quite regularly (there) at my altar," he said.

He confesses that he was distracted recently at the Mass for Life at the Verizon Center. "He (the priest) was giving an awesome homily, and I was looking at the ambo, thinking, 'I remember when that was in my shop.'"

But when Pope Benedict XVI celebrates Mass on April 17 for more than 45,000 people and uses the altar that Deacon Cahoon helped build, the carpenter said, "It'll be a blessing," one the craftsman and deacon will never forget.