Cathedral History


The Beginnings of Saint Joseph Cathedral Parish
Written by Rev. Mr. James Gorski


We can trace St. Joseph Cathedral Parish back to early 1866, when Rev. Edward M. Fitzgerald, pastor of Saint Patrick Church, felt that the church was overcrowded. There was also a desire to have a more centrally located church in downtown Columbus.

Two-hundred-fifty people generously donated nearly $37,000 to Father Fitzgerald to assist him with his new project. He then organized a Building Committee made up of influential members from Saint Patrick Church. It consisted of: Theodore Leonard, Treasure; William Naghten, Secretary; John Conahan; John Joyce; John D, Clarke; Thomas Bergin; John Caren; Michael Harding; William Wall; James Naughton; William Riches; John McCabe; Michael Hartman; John Duffy; Martin Whalen; Bernard NcNally and Michael Galvin. 1

Next, a subcommittee was chosen to find a suitable location in downtown Columbus. Although several good sites were proposed, the prevailing desire was to have the new church built on Broad Street. Two lots with a total frontage of 120 feet on Broad Street and a depth of 200 feet on Fifth Street were purchased from John Miller, through John Joyce, in April, 1866, for $13,500. 2

After the land was purchased, the men of St. Patrick Church held a meeting to decide to upon a name for the new church. J.D. Clark proposed St. Joseph, it was seconded, and all agreed. St. Joseph now had land and a name, and Architect Michael Harding was hired to prepare plans for the new church.

Mr. Harding originally designed the church to be 193 feet long by 90 feet wide. Interestingly, the original plans were modified only slightly as the work progressed, remaining essentially unchanged throughout the construction process.

On June 6, 1866, Mr. Harding staked out the foundation, and John McCabe, the Contractor, began to excavate the site. John Stoddard shortly began the masonry work. The work continued on the foundation until November 11, 1866 when the first cornerstone was laid. 3

Laying the Cornerstone to Saint Joseph Cathedral

November 11, 1866, was a cold but beautiful day when the processions started from Saint Patrick Church. The most reverend Archbishop Purcell was supposed to preside at the ceremony, but because of a schedule conflict, did not. In his place, Right Rev. Doctor Sylvester H. Rosecrans, Auxiliary Bishop of Cincinnati, attended. The procession started at 2 p.m. with Captain William Riches as Chief Marshal, with City Marshal Patrick Murphy, Thomas Bergin, James Joyce. J. C. Nevill, Patrick Dunn, George Burke, John Howard, William Naghten, and John Caren as assistants. The procession moved in the following order: Hemmersbach’s Brass Band, Saint Joseph’s Mutual Benevolent Society, Saint Boniface’s, Saint John’s, Saint Martin’s and Saint Aloysius’s Societies of Holy Cross Church; a Sub-Deacon carrying a processional cross accompanied by Acolytes; twenty Sanctuary Boys in cassock and surplice; carriages containing the Bishop and Clerg;, the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin; the Holy Angels Society; the class of boys and girls who had received First Communion and Confirmation on the morning of that day; Saint Patrick’s Society from London, Societies from Newark and Delaware, and finally Saint Patrick’s Society of Columbus.

The streets were full of neighbors watching the large and colorful procession with large banners as it moved along Grant Avenue to Broad Street. It then turned west and stopped at Fifth Street. As it arrived at the church foundation, the Societies formed a guard on the outer wall. 4

The Corner Stone was laid at the southeast corner of the foundation, near the intersection of Broad Street and Fifth Street. The cavity contained a sealed tin box with name of the new church, the names of senior federal and state government officials, copies of recent Columbus newspapers, and the names of the present Pope, the Archbishop of the Province and his assistants, and the pastor. The tin box also had several mementos that people had collected for the occasion.

The Rt. Rev. Rosecrans from Cincinnati delivered an eloquent address from a temporary platform, where he pleaded the divinity of the Catholic Church. After his address, the Hemmersbach Band played “Te Deum.”

The clergy from the region was well represented, including: Rev. Father O’Reilly of Valparaiso, Indiana; Rev. John B. Murray of Chillicothe; Revs. Louis Cartuyvel and Daily of Newark; Rev. E. M. Fitzgerald of Saint Patrick Church, Columbus; Revs. John B. Hemsteger and F. X. Specht of Holy Cross Church, Columbus; and Rev. Father Hillebrand of Saint Francis Hospital. An estimated 6000 people came to Columbus as part of special delegations on different railroads from area towns.

Now that the corner stone was laid, the new foundation walls were covered over for the winter. Spring would see the resumption of work on the new Saint Joseph Church. 5

The next few months brought some changes. Papal Bulls came that named Father Fitzgerald Bishop of Little Rock, Arkansas. He was consecrated in February of 1867. On February 28, 1867, Rt. Rev. Sylvester H. Rosecrans was transferred to Columbus Saint Patrick Church as its pastor. On March 3, 1868 Bishop Rosecrans was named First Bishop of Columbus. Bishop Rosecrans immediately went to work to finish Saint Joseph Church. Mr. Robert T. Brookes was commissioned to succeed Mr. Harding as architect. 6

Foundation Excavation and New Construction

As the church was now to become a cathedral, a few changes were made in the construction plans. The building was going to be constructed out of stone instead of brick, which required a firmer and deeper foundation. The old foundation walls were torn down to build the new ones. In tearing up the old foundation, the original cornerstone was either removed, covered, or destroyed. There is no trace of it today.

The local newspaper talked about some of the changes. There was to be a 312 foot high clock tower with three clock faces and a chime of ten bells on the southwest corner of the cathedral, while the southeast tower of the cathedral was to be 200 feet high. The main tower was never completed beyond where it stands today. The area beneath the southwest tower would house the baptistry. 7

The building was Gothic in design, and the stone was from quarries in Licking and Fairfield Counties. The stone had a boasted ashlar finish, with the end result looking like a yellow stone wall. Exposure to air over time hardened the surface.

The outside of the main cathedral building is 92 feet wide facing East Broad Street by 185 feet along Fifth Street. The outside walls are 42 feet high from the ground, and 34 feet from the inside floor line. The clearstory walls are 70 feet from the ground and 62 feet from the inside floor. The walls of the main sanctuary are three feet thick.

The clearstory walls are supported by arches which rest on clusters of Gothic columns. These columns stand on dressed limestone pedestals. Stone crosses surmount the outside walls at intervals to give relief to the wall structure. The windows are cased in freestone from Pickaway County. The brackets were cut from Columbus limestone and are said to be the only stone articles in the cathedral from Columbus. The interior walls of the cathedral have only the sandstone finish, while the groined arches of the ceiling are painted plaster to match the appearance of the sandstone walls. 8

While the Cathedral was originally supposed to hold 2000 people, it currently seats just under 700. There are three main entrances on Broad Street, and one on Fifth Street. The Sacristies can be accessed by a door at the far back of the Fifth Street side of the building, or from the Pastoral Residence on the west side.

In the summer of 1870, General W.S. Rosecrans spent time with his brother, Bishop Rosecrans in Columbus. General Rosecrans directed the design of the window arches and the clearstory supports. Fortunately, the stained glass windows that depict various scenes of Saints, the Holy Family and various religious symbols were donated to the Cathedral.

The Rev. J.A. Murray was the pastor of St. Patrick Church in the early 1870’s, but was heavily involved in the cathedral’s construction, holding the position of general supervisor. General Rosecrans’ plans and ideas were carried out close to the original with few changes. From 1870 on, the completion of the building was under the supervision of Mr. Michael Fahey.

Because other churches at the time were crowded, Bishop Rosecrans opened a temporary chapel at Naughton Hall, which was on the east side of High Street, between State Street and Town Street. The hall had a seating capacity of around 500 people. Bishop Rosecrans, assisted by Rev. J.A. Murray and other priests at Saint Patrick Church, attended the chapel. Mr. M. Fahey, a gentleman who was connected with local Catholic choirs for more than 35 years, directed the choir. Within a few months, the Cathedral Chapel Congregation was placed under the care of Rev. J.F. Rotchford. O.P., a Dominican Father from New York. He stayed until 1872 when he was called by his superiors to perform other duties elsewhere. From the time in 1872 when Rev. Rotchford left until the cathedral was completed, Bishop Rosecrans and Rev. N.A. Gallagher conducted the religious services. 9

Christmas Day 1872

On Christmas Day in 1872, the new St. Joseph Cathedral was sufficiently complete that services could be held inside. Bishop Rosecrans celebrated High Mass for the first time in the Cathedral, assisted by a number of priests from Columbus. It was a cold wintery day. The newly installed steam heating system had developed problems. The large congregation huddled inside to keep warm.

Soon after the opening of the Cathedral, a large and costly main altar was constructed. The marble was donated by Cardinal McCloskey, and came from quarries in New York State. These were the same quarries that supplied the marble for the interior of Saint Patrick Cathedral in New York City. The side altars of the Cathedral were added soon afterward, and were constructed of the same marble. 10

Even though the new Cathedral was used for services at the end of 1872, there were no living quarters for the Clergy. Enough donations were collected to purchase the Joseph Gundersheimer House. It was on the south side of East Broad Street between Sixth and Seventh Streets. The Bishop and Cathedral Clergy were able to move into this large fashionable house by the end of 1873. However, the Clergy decided that the location was a bit inconvenient to the new Cathedral, so plans were made to build a residence that connected to the Cathedral building.

By 1878, the Cathedral interior was still unfinished. In May, 1878, a contract was awarded to John D. Clarke and Charles Nagel to erect scaffolding and finish the plastering of the interior. The groined ceiling was erected under the direction and supervision of Rev. M.M Meara.

Consecration of Saint Joseph Cathedral

With this grand Cathedral nearing completion, Bishop Rosecrans decided to have a special consecration performed on October 20, 1878. All the clergy of the diocese were asked to assist at the sacred ceremonies and a large number of the church hierarchy of the United States accepted invitations to be present during the celebration.

It was a cool, bright and comfortable day. The ceremonies began at 5 o’clock in the morning and took nearly four hours to complete. The Most Reverend Silas Chatard, Bishop of Vincennes, Indiana was the Celebrant of a Pontifical High Mass. His vestment was made by Miss Mary Joyce of Columbus while she was attending school at the Ursuline Convent in Brown County. It was presented to Bishop Rosecrans and was reserved for this special occasion. It was described as very lavish and decorative. 11 The Most Reverend Archbishop Purcell of Cincinnati occupied the throne at the Gospel side, while Right Reverend Bishop Rosecrans sat on another throne erected at the Epistle side of the Cathedral. Right Rev. Bishops Gilmore of Cleveland, Toebbe of Covington, Dwenger of Fort Wayne, Kain of Wheeling and Spaulding of Peoria assisted in the Sanctuary. Seated within the Sanctuary railing were about fifty priests.

Professor J.J. Nothnagel directed a choir of 50 voices, selected from all of the choirs in Columbus, plus a few volunteer professionals. 12 An afternoon procession was held at 3 o’clock consisting of 37 societies from Cincinnati, Springfield, Straitsville, Shawnee, Zanesville, Lancaster, Circleville, Newark, Dayton, Marion and Columbus. Ten of the best brass bands in the state participated in the procession. The procession was a mile-and-a-half long and took twenty-two minutes to pass by! In total, between 2000 and 2500 individuals were in the procession. 13 14

Bishop Rosecrans died the day after the consecration of the Cathedral. His tomb lies directly below the Cathedral’s main altar in the lower level.

After Bishop Rosecrans passed away, Archbishop Purcel appointed Rev. N. Gallagher the administrator of the Diocese during the vacancy. Rev. M.M. Meara was the Rector and was assisted in 1879 and 1880 by Rev. J. Kuehn, Rev. L.W. Mulhane, and Rev. F.M. Woesman. Rev. D.A. Clarke was stationed at the Cathedral, as chaplain of the Catholic prisoners in the State Penitentiary. 15

When Rt. Rev. John Ambrose Watterson, D.D., became Bishop in April, 1880, he took up residence at the Cathedral and made several changes. Rev. M.M. Meara was transferred to Circleville as Pastor of Saint Joseph Church in 1882. Rev. R.J. Fitzgerald was made rector of the Cathedral, assisted by Rev. L.W. Mulhane and Rev. J.P. White. Rev. T.J. O’Reilly succeeded Father Mulhane as the Bishop’s secretary in 1885. Father Mulhane was placed in charge of Saint Vincent Church in Mount Vernon. 16   In September of 1889, Rev. Father O’Reilly was given the task of organizing a new parish of Saint Dominic, with Father Mahoney succeeding him as the Bishop’s secretary.

When Bishop Moeller came to Columbus he called Rev. M.M Meara back to the Cathedral to once again be the Rector.

On June 25, 1907, the Kelley mansion was purchased for $41,000. The property was located on East Broad Street, and was intended to be used as a Parish School. It had a colorful background, with secret tunnels believed to travel as far as St. Joseph Cathedral, a block away. 17

The Renovations of Saint Joseph Cathedral

In 1914, the Cathedral underwent its first remodeling project. There was an old cluster of iron columns that were thought to be an obstruction, and the walls were beginning to look dark. A new main alter and side alters were constructed. The wood altar railing gave way to a new marble one. The columns that held up the clearstory section of the Cathedral were replaced, and new lighting was installed. The cost of the renovation was around $105,000. 18

The second renovation project brought about a new Cathedral Rectory and Bishop’s House. In the spring of 1949, the original house from the 1870’s was torn down and replaced by new buildings on the same site. The Angelo Wrecking Company was the contractor.

The third renovation project began in the fall of 1967. The floor of the foundation was lowered to make the Undercroft usable for meetings and classes.

A fourth renovation of Saint Joseph Cathedral, begun in June, 1978, brought about several changes. Wooden screens that separated the Sanctuary and Chancel were removed and put on the back walls of the apses behind the altar. The first five rows of pews and the altar railing were removed to allow more openness in the nave. The altar and baldachin were moved to the front of the present chancel.

The chancel floor was raised to the level of the sanctuary. The present Sacred Heart Chapel in the west wall was changed to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. The Chapel of Our Lady Statue was restored. A new Shrine of Saint Joseph was situated on the left side of the sanctuary near the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. One pulpit was built on the right side of the sanctuary. The baptismal font was placed in the Nave and the baptismal room was converted into the reconciliation room. 19

Other Changes Over the Years

Folk Music became popular at mass during the late 1960’s. In June, 1968, it was introduced to our 12:30 Sunday Mass. At first, people were skeptical, but the 12:30 Mass soon became quite popular.

The first class of six Permanent Deacons were ordained at the Cathedral in June, 1976. Bishop Edward Herman presided, assisted by Father. Ralph Hutzinger and Father Thomas Shonebarger. The newly ordained Deacons were: Richard Baumann of Columbus Our Lady of Victory, Terrence Canavan of Westerville Saint Paul, Bernard Kenney of Columbus Immaculate Conception, Frank Paniccia and Gene Irish of Columbus Staint Andrew, and Charles Brockman of Columbus Saint Aloysius. 20 

Historical events occur at the Cathedral on an ongoing basis. Changes in clergy, new faces and new organizations are brought into the picture. The intent of this document is not to give an all-inclusive description of every event, but to start building a document that can be built upon.