To Symbolize Our Christian Faith and Christian Love: First Sermon in the Cathedral of Saint Paul

The following is the text of Archbishop John Ireland’s First Homily in the New Saint Paul Cathedral, Palm Sunday, March 28, 1915.

Exterior of the Cathedral of Saint Paul on Summit Avenue. Photo: Cathedral of Saint Paul

Façade inscription at the Cathedral of Saint Paul: Euntes Ergo Docete Omnes Gentes (Go therefore and make disciples of all nations). Photo: Carl Simmons

Cathedral of Saint Paul interior. Photo: Cathedral of Saint Paul

Hail, thou, Cathedral of Saint Paul! With joyous acclaim of soul, with hearts aglow of love and gratitude we salute thee.

“This is the day which the Lord hath made: let us be glad and rejoice therein.” Long have we waited for its coming, now amid hopes, now amid fears. Hopes that at a time not too remote the Cathedral would rise into full stateliness of form and open to our impatient steppings its welcoming portals. Fears lest our visions had betrayed us, lest our ambitions had gone beyond the reach of our love and sacrifice. “This is the day which the Lord hath made”—fears are departed shadows; hopes are blissful fruitions. The Cathedral enters on its heaven-born mission—service to God, service to souls. Hail thou, Cathedral of Saint Paul.

Perhaps, we are unjust to the Cathedral.

We have allowed it no leisure to put itself into due readiness—to bedeck interior walls with marble robings, to set in place sculptured columns and fretted arches, to grace sanctuary and chapels with the beauteousness of which they must be radiant, when the last bidding of the artist’s pencil will have been obeyed. But seeing it as it is, does it not wrest to itself, friends and benefactors of the Cathedral, your admiration, your praise, your exultation of mind and heart? A great, a noble edifice it is—this Cathedral of Saint Paul, regal in the hilltop chosen as its throne, regal in the sparkling granite of its towering walls, regal in vast proportions and in elegance of architectural lines, regal in the grandeur of its peerless dome. In pride and happiness we salute thee—Cathedral of Saint Paul.

And, Catholics of the Diocese of Saint Paul, it is your Cathedral. You built it; you paid for it—it is yours. Fondly rest your eyes upon it; caress it with tender touch. It is your home, purchased with the fruits of your toil, of your Christian self-denial.

You built it—you, Catholic men and women of the Diocese of Saint Paul. The appeal was made; the thousands, the tens of thousands gave answer. The greater number are poor in worldly store; all are rich in Christian faith, in Christian love. And thus, the Cathedral was built.

It is your Cathedral, Catholics of the Diocese of Saint Paul. Or rather, it was your Cathedral. It now becomes the property of the Living God, His house, His home. As Solomon spoke of the Temple of Jerusalem, so we today speak of the Cathedral of Saint Paul: “I have built a house to the name of the Lord, the God of Israel.” And far more true this is of the Cathedral of Saint Paul than it was of the Temple of Jerusalem. Upon the Temple of Jerusalem there rested the shadow of the Divine Majesty; within the Cathedral of Saint Paul there dwells the Living God Himself, in the Eucharistic Sacrifice and Sacrament of His new covenant with men.

The Cathedral was built by the Catholics of the Diocese of Saint Paul as the supreme monument of their Christian faith and their Christian love. Therefore, today it is beautiful, it is noble. Therefore, tomorrow it will be still more beautiful, still more noble.

Every chapel, every church in every parish of the diocese is a monument of the Christian faith and the Christian love of those who built it. Necessarily, however, the resources at the disposal of any one parish are limited: at best the monument it builds is only a partial token of the good will of its Catholic people. Therefore, they said, we will, in a united outflow of generosity, build in the Diocese of Saint Paul one great temple that, in expressive manner, will symbolize, as no isolated effort can do, our Christian faith and Christian love, and will preach to the world of men around us the grandeur of that faith, the sublime holiness of that love. This is the history of the Cathedral of Saint Paul, the mother church of the Diocese of Saint Paul, the common monument of the whole people of God to Christ, to the Catholic faith.

The Cathedral, sons and daughters of the Diocese of Saint Paul, is our supreme act of faith, our solemn, never-silent Credo.

Credo—“I believe.” “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. I believe in the Holy Catholic Church.”

“I believe in God—and in Jesus Christ.” God and His Christ are being forgotten: fain would men throw off their yoke and break their bonds asunder. Well, whatever the spread of impiety and unbelief, legions there are, right here in Saint Paul, right here in Minnesota, who refuse to bend the knee to Baal. Their witness, the Cathedral of Saint Paul—the Cross it exalts high into the air, that all may see and remember whence salvation is given to the world of men.

“I believe in the Holy Catholic Church.” It is the faith of the centuries; it is our faith; it will be the faith of the centuries yet unborn. Fain would we symbolize this faith in a monument that the world of men around us must see and understand. Hence the Cathedral of Saint Paul, firm in deep-seated foundations as is the Church of Christ itself, strong and defiant of storm in its granite walls, as the Church itself is ever proven to be, whatever the cruel winds battling against it adown the centuries.

Cathedral, thou art the symbol of our faith. Therefore, we have built thee grand and beautiful, to be not altogether unworthy of the mission we entrust to thee. To God, to Christ, to our Catholic faith the Cathedral was to be built. It is built: “This is the day which the Lord hath made: let us be glad and rejoice therein.”

On the second day of July, 1851, the first Bishop of Saint Paul stood in the sanctuary of the first Cathedral of Saint Paul, a hut built of the rude timbers of the neighboring forests—so small that fewer than a hundred people crowded to repletion its audience room, so large as to give cover to all the Catholics of the nascent city. What a change from July 2, 1851, to March 28, 1915! Later, two other cathedrals successively took the place of the log-built chapel. What a change from the dedication day of either to the dedication day of the great edifice that is in 1915 the Cathedral of Saint Paul!

How much the Cathedral of today does tell of wonders done in the city of Saint Paul, in the state of Minnesota, in the Diocese of Saint Paul! O God, from Whose throne all good things do descend, we praise Thee, we thank Thee.

Be with us today, in gladness and exaltation, pioneers of the Diocese of Saint Paul, to see the fruitage of your faith and zeal, to see how high has risen the spiritual edifice whose foundation stones you laid in patient hopefulness. Be with us, pioneer bishops and priests: Cretin, Grace, Galtier, Ravoux. Be with us, pioneer Catholic men and women, whose faith built our early cathedrals and opened, amid the years, the pathways leading to the Cathedral of 1915, to the diocese of 1915.

May the new Cathedral, while surpassing its predecessors in material splendor, be equal to them in richness of spiritual life, in service to God and to souls!

This sacristy was added by Maginnis & Walsh Architects in 1924. Photo: Greg Povolny

The cathedra canopy was added in 2012. Photo: Joe Hilliard

Narthex and gate to the Pietà replica, created by Stephen Bishop in 2010. Photo: Greg Povolny

The stained walnut organ case, added in 2013, frames the 18’-6” diameter rose window. Photo: Joe Hilliard

Born in County Kilkenny, the Most Rev. John Ireland was ordained a priest in 1861 and served as a chaplain during the Civil War. He was ordained bishop in 1875, and in 1904 Ireland secured land for a new cathedral on Summit Hill, the highest point in downtown Saint Paul.  The cathedral was mostly completed in 1915, three years before the death of Archbishop Ireland.