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   Narrative of the Foundation of the Cathedral of Saint Paul


Narrative of the Foundation of the Cathedral of Saint Paul


    From: The Church in Worcester New England: A Modern Diocese with an Ancient Name

    By Jack Frost

    The Hawthorne Press, Copyright 1956

    Chapter: St. Paul's Cathedral - Sturdy Monument to a Valiant Faith


     On March 7, 1950, a new sound echoed throughout downtown Worcester. It was the peal of a twenty-five hundred-pound bell that had been hung only the day before in the hundred forty-five-foot tower of massive St. Paul's, and it proclaimed the installation of Most Reverend John J. Wright as first Bishop of the Diocese of Worcester. The joyous ringing meant too that St. Paul's, the queen of the city's churches, was now formally a cathedral; it had become that for which it had always seemed destined - the chief church of a diocese.

     St. Paul's is a dark granite structure, strong and noble, of Gothic architecture. It faces Chatham street at the corner of High, cresting the sharp grade that rises to the west off Main street. And in its location there is to be found an interesting story that reflects the temper of the times in which our ancestors labored so valiantly to lay the foundations of the Faith hereabouts.

     In August, 1866, Father John J. Power, pastor of St. Ann's Church on what is now Shrewsbury street, at the suggestion of Most Reverend John J. Williams of Boston took steps to establish a parish for Catholics arriving in large numbers into the west side of the city. He purchased the pear orchards of George T. Rice and John Milton Earle at Main and Chatham streets for $15,000 and planned to front a church on Main street. Immediately the project became the subject of heated controversy and the city fathers suddenly announced that they proposed to widen Main street at that very point. In the light of this development Father Power decided to go up the hill and erect his church on High street. It is felt that he was influenced in his decision by Bishop Williams , who, eager to avoid whatever might excite or increase anti-Catholic bitterness, followed a policy of building on side streets.

     Still, the matter was not settled, for Father Power's neighbors on High street suddenly were seized with worries about the depreciation of their property. One of them proposed an exchange of lots. This was agreed to and thus St. Paul's came to be constructed facing Chatham street.

     In the Spring of 1868 ground was broken, and on July 4, 1869, the basement was completed, roofed and the first Mass said therein by Bishop Williams. Father Fitton, pastor of the first parish in Worcester, preached the sermon. That same day the cornerstone was laid.

     Just five years after these ceremonies, in 1874, the superstructure was completed, except for the tower, construction of which was delayed until 1889. Most Reverend Patrick T. O'Reilly of Springfield, to which See Worcester in the meanwhile had been attached, performed the dedication and Most Reverend James A. Healy of Portland gave the address.

     The cathedral is a hundred and sixty-eight feet long, ninety-one feet wide and ninety-six feet to the apex. Originally the design called for a lofty spire, but the tower appealed to the corrected taste as more in keeping with the character of the building.

     St. Paul's has served the faithful well over its four score and more years. Structural changes have not been necessary, although recent renovations inside have introduced a strong note of spiritual buoyancy and a modern, colorful decorative scheme. Light shades have given an air of greatly increased spaciousness, and new shrines and other objects of devotion have heightened the reverential and cosmopolitan aspects one associates with cathedral churches.


     To mention just a few of the latter, there are now in St. Paul's shrines to St. Joan of Arc, St. Wulstan, St. Patrick and St. Pius X; a Marian shrine that features Domenico Morelli's Mater Purissima; a Sixteenth Century wood carving by the German master Jorg Syrlin the younger; a three hundred year old icon of Our Lady of Kazan; Flemish tapestries illustrating scenes of the Passion; a portrait of St. Paul by Van Dyke, and a jewel-encrusted representation of Our Lady of Czestochowa.

     But the recent addition to St. Paul's Cathedral to which the attention of visitors is particularly directed is an oaken plaque in the vestibule. The tablet was suggested by an inscription in the porch of the medieval cathedral church of the "sister city" of Worcester, England, and reads as follows:


"Whosoever thou art that entereth this Cathedral leave it not without first offering humble prayer to God for the Bishop of this Diocese, for its priests, religious and people and for all members of Christ's Church, the living and the dead, and for those not yet of His fold for whom Christ died and for whom we pray."


38 High Street * Worcester, Massachusetts 01609-2498


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