By Fr. George Welzbacher
May 27, 2007
Cass Gilbert, the trail-blazing architect who designed America's first skyscraper (the Woolworth Building in mid-town Manhattan), yet who was equally adept in devising the plans for a grandiose building in the classical style (Minnesota's State Capitol), once remarked of the St. Paul Cathedral: "If the dome of the Cathedral of Saint Paul ... were part of the skyline of a city in Europe, [it] would be world-famous." Concurring decades later in that judgment is Joseph (formerly Cardinal) Ratzinger, now reigning gloriously as Pope Benedict XVI. Recalling his visit to the Twin Cities back in 1984 to give an academic lecture on the campus of the University of St. Thomas--(subject: the power of beauty to draw souls to God)- he said "I remember the Cathedral of Saint Paul as the most beautiful Cathedral in the United States." To which judgment may I, having visited most of this nation's important cathedrals, add my own emphatic "Amen!" Everything about the Cathedral, its magnificent setting and its majestic proportions, sumptuously enhanced by its interior adornments, comes together to constitute perfection.
Massive granite block by granite block, over the course of a dozen years the Cathedral slowly rose, from its planning to the completion of at least the outer frame, thanks to the close collaboration of St. Paul's first archbishop, John Ireland (1838 - 1918), and his friend, the French emigre and architectural genius Emmanuel Masqueray (1861-1917). Mr. Masqueray's other church buildings in the Upper Midwest include the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis; the Church of St. Louis in downtown St. Paul; the St. Thomas College Chapel (elegantly simple until its interior proportions were revamped years later in an ill-advised "modernization"); the St. Paul Seminary Chapel, once a jewel-like example of a small Byzantine basilica beautifully adapted for antiphonal chanting of the Divine Office and liturgical song until, in the iconoclastic madness of the 1980's, a cabal of self-defined experts, as arrogant as they were ignorant, gutted the interior and stood the building "on its head", grotesquely converting the apse, the liturgy's original focal point, into an entrance, and what was the entrance into the focal point. At the end of the list of his major Catholic Churches stands the stately Cathedral of Sioux Falls. The Protestant Episcopal St. Paul's-on-the-Hill (on Summit near Snelling) is also the work of Masqueray.
The mortal remains both of the archbishop and of the architect are interred in Calvary Cemetery. But the real monument for these two great men is the Cathedral. Whenever we catch sight of that glorious dome rising high above the city's horizon we would do well to offer a prayer of praise to Almighty God as well as a prayer of thanks that our city is thus blessed with one of America's architectural glories.
It is therefore "meet and just" that the centennial commemoration of the laying of the cornerstone (1907) should be marked by circumstance and pomp. The Cathedral's rector, my very good friend for many a year Father Joseph Johnson, has organized a celebration on a scale that suits well both the confessional and the civic importance of this preminent temple of God. The celebration will take place on Saturday, June the second, and on Sunday, June the third. And may I offer the comment that the scheduling of this observance precisely on those two dates represents for me a gratifing coincidence, inasmuch as it was in the Cathedral of St. Paul on June the second (1951) that I was ordained a priest, and it was on the next day, June the third, that I offered my First Solemn Mass at the Cathedral's high altar, from the choir stalls around which, in my grade school days, I used to sing, vested in cassock and surplice, in the Cathedral Men's and Boys' Choir.
* * * * *May I share with you an enclosure from a packet that the pastors in this archdiocese recently received relating to the centennial celebration. And may I earnestly urge all who can do so to attend some or all of the planned events, particularly the Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving at the Cathedral on Saturday evening, June the second, at seven o'clock, and the Solemn Vespers on Sunday evening, June the third, at six.