St. Patrick's Cathedral

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The History of St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Historical Timeline

1785 - In New York City there were only two hundred Catholics and one priest. The predecessor church of St. Patrick’s Cathedral was dedicated to the Prince of the Apostles - Saint Peter - and was built and dedicated on Barclay Street in lower Manhattan. It is the oldest Roman Catholic parish in New York City Today.

1805 - Mrs. Elizabeth Bayley Seton, founder of the Sisters of Charity in this country, was converted to Catholicism and made her profession of faith, received first communion and was confirmed in the old Saint Peter’s Church.

1808 - The Diocese of New York was created and comprised the entire State of New York and the eastern part of New Jersey. It was one of four suffrage sees within the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

1809 - The recent elevation of New York as an episcopal see with its own bishop inspired the increasing Catholic population to build the original Cathedral of New York under the name of Ireland’s patron saint, Saint Patrick. The site chosen belonged to the corporation of Saint Peter’s Church and was located on Mulberry Street in lower Manhattan. The cornerstone was laid in June 1809.

1815 - A news article in the New York Gazette declared: “The new Catholic church in this city was last Thursday, Ascension Day, solemnly dedicated to God under the name of Saint Patrick. This grand and beautiful church, which may justly be considered one of the greatest ornaments of our city, and inferior in point of elegance to none in the United States, is built in the Gothic style and executed agreeable to the design of Mr. Joseph Mangin, the celebrated architect of New York. The superior elegance of the architecture, as well as the beauty of the interior, had for some months past excited a considerable degree of public curiosity. Upwards of four thousand persons consisting of the best families of New York attended the dedication,” which was begun in 1809 and lately so far completed as to be fit for divine service,

1842 - Bishop John Hughes became Bishop of New York. His cathedral was the largest church structure in New York City, where he safely guided the growth of the city’s Catholic population during a time of much religious bigotry and turmoil.

1850 - New York became an archdiocese and Bishop Hughes became the first archbishop.

1853 - Archbishop Hughes announced plans “to erect a Cathedral in the City of New York that may be worthy of our increasing numbers, intelligence and wealth as a religious community, and at all events, worthy, as a public architectural monument, of the present and prospective crowns of this metropolis of the American continent.”

1853 - Renowned architect James Renwick was engaged to design the current Cathedral at a cost of approximately $850,000, not including the altars, furnishings for chapels, organs and other furniture. The stone chosen was white marble.

1858 - The cornerstone of the new St. Patrick’s Cathedral, whose boundaries would be between Fifth and Madison Avenues and Fiftieth and Fifty-First Streets, was laid on the site of the old Saint John’s Church on August 15, 1858. Construction of the new Cathedral progressed rapidly until interrupted by the Civil War and the need for additional funding.

1864 - After the death of the beloved Archbishop Hughes, Bishop John McCloskey was installed Archbishop of New York. Construction of the Cathedral resumed shortly after the close of the war.

1866 - On the night of October 6, 1866, old historic St. Patrick’s on Mulberry Street was destroyed by fire; the Cathedral was rebuilt within the four original walls that remained and dedicated on Saint Patrick’s Day 1868.

1875 - The first American Cardinal, Cardinal John McCloskey, was invested in the old Cathedral.

1878 - A fund- raising fair was held in the new St. Patrick’s Cathedral, with forty-five parishes sponsoring tables. Receipts of $172,625 were raised to assist in purchasing furnishings for the Cathedral.

1879 - St. Patrick’s Cathedral was opened formally on May 25, 1879. The newspapers hailed the new Cathedral as “the noblest temple ever raised in any land to the memory of Saint Patrick, and as the glory of Catholic America.”

1884 - On the occasion of his fiftieth anniversary as a priest, Cardinal McCloskey was presented with the beautiful marble pulpit as a gift from the clergy.

1888 - The spires of the Cathedral were completed during the stewardship of Archbishop Michael Corrigan.

1900 - Construction of the Lady Chapel was begun and the first Mass was offered in the Chapel on Christmas 1906. Construction with all furnishings was completed in 1908.

1909 - The first of the Lady Chapel stained glass windows was installed with the remainder to follow over the next twenty-five years. They were designed and constructed in England, France and Germany.

1910 - On October 5, 1910, the Cathedral became free from debt and was solemnly consecrated by Archbishop Farley who later was made Cardinal. It was estimated that over $4 million had been spent from start to the day of consecration.

1927 - In honor of the 50th Anniversary of the dedication of the Cathedral, Cardinal Hayes inaugurated the largest renovation project in the history of the Cathedral up to that time. The sanctuary was enlarged, the choir gallery was rebuilt, new chancel and gallery organs were built, a new baptistery was added and new nave flooring and pews were put in place. The sanctuary was enclosed by an oak screen and a handsomely designed altar railing was added.

1936 - On October 11, 1936, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who later became Pope Pius XII, presided at the 26th anniversary of the consecration of the Cathedral.

1941-1947 - Cardinal Spellman found benefactors to underwrite many improvements including many new upper windows, the bronze doors, a new high altar and Lady Chapel altar and extensive repairs of the marble exterior facade.

1942 - The new Lady Chapel altar and new high altar and baldachin, more appropriate for a Gothic cathedral design, were consecrated by Archbishop Spellman. The famous stained glass artisan Charles Connick designed a number of upper windows and the rose window. The architect of the renovations was Charles Maginnis of Maginnis and Walsh.

1950’s - Installation of the upper windows was completed. The crowning stained glass work was the installation of the grand rose window over the west portal.

1972 - During Cardinal Cooke’s administration the entire interior of the Cathedral was restored.

1979 - Restoration of the exterior was completed for the Cathedral’s 100th anniversary.

1984-2000 - During Cardinal O’Connor’s episcopate, extensive renovations were made to maintain the structural integrity of the building, including replacement of much of the roof, resetting the exterior steps, repainting the transept walls and refinishing the transept doors. The Cathedral’s organs were rebuilt and television monitors were added so that all congregants at services might be able to participate fully in the liturgy. The bells were restored and a new lighting system was installed.

2000-2009 - During Cardinal Egan’s episcopate, the Lady Chapel, including windows, was cleaned and restored. The restoration of the altar of Saint Anthony was completed and a fine bas-relief of Saint Frances Cabrini was mounted. The sanctuary with its two altars, the sacristy, the baldachin and the great carved wood screen around the sanctuary were restored to their original splendor. A new shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Czestochowa and various saints of Poland was dedicated as was the restored Saint Andrew’s Chapel.

2000 - At a June 19, 2000 Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral attended by many dignitaries and graced by the beautiful voice of soprano Renée Fleming, Edward Egan was appointed Archbishop of New York, proclaiming "We are a people of faith. We are a people of prayer. We are a people of justice. We are a people of charity. That is our formula." Archbishop Egan would be elevated to the cardinalate in 2001.

2001 - On September 16, 2001 Cardinal Egan presided over a memorial mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for the victims of the September 11 attacks. He praised the public servants of New York who selflessly and heroically rushed to the scene. See 9/11 Mass of Supplication and Remembering the Heroes of 9/11.

2007-2008 - The Archdiocese of New York celebrated its Bicentennial with many celebratory Masses and events. Edward Cardinal Egan hosted a much-heralded concert featuring various choirs and stars from the Metropolitan Opera.

2008 - On April 19, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI became the first Pope to celebrate Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral. His Holiness called upon all who were present to be heralds of hope— and to look to the spires of St. Patrick’s as a symbol of the spiritual yearning of the human heart. See video excerpt.

2009 - On April 15, 2009 in a joyful Mass of Installation at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, His Excellency Timothy Dolan was installed as the 10th Archbishop of New York saying: "I pledge to you my love, my life, my heart, and I can tell you already that I love you. I need so much your prayers and support. I am so honored, humbled, and happy to serve as your pastor."

2011 and the Future - Plans are put in place to launch a major effort to preserve St. Patrick’s for generations to come.

➤ Continued: Moments in Time