The church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace. It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolation of the holy Spirit it grew in numbers.
Acts 9: 31
In 1843, a small group of Catholic families met for Mass each Sunday in a rented room at the back of a bookstore on Fourth Street. Most of the families were of Irish descent. The pastor was Fr. Michael J. Clarke. This was the start of the present congregation of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception.
By 1844, enough money had been raised to build a church. Constructed of brick on the corner of Fifth and Brown Streets, it was completed in 1846 and named the Church of Saints Mary and Martha. In 1850, the parish built a school house where the children were taught by two lay teachers. The Sisters of Providence came to Lafayette and took over the administration of the school in 1858. Reverend Edmund Burke Kilroy became pastor of the parish in 1859 and the next year local resident Lawrence B. Stockton designated a plot of land on Columbia Street to be used to build a church, rectory and school. In 1861, the grading and foundation for the new church on Columbia Street was completed. It would be called St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception. Construction was interrupted when the Civil War broke out in April 1861. In late 1861, Fr. Kilroy was replaced by Rev. George A. Hamilton as pastor.
After the war was over and funds became available, Fr. Hamilton saw to the completion of the church and rectory. The Gothic Revival style structure was completed and dedicated on August 15, 1866. One of Fr. Hamiltonís closest friends, an American Indian named William Burnett Davis, willed half his estate of $75,000 to St. Mary. This $37,500 amounted to half of the cost of the building. When Fr. Hamilton died in 1875, he was buried in the basement of the Church. Another grave is present but unmarked. Legend has it that Fr. Hamilton had buried his Indian friend, Bill Davis, in the basement without telling the congregation.
In late 1944, the new Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana was created. St. Mary Church was chosen to be the Cathedral for the diocese. The first bishop of this new diocese, Reverend John G. Bennett, was installed on January 10, 1945.
Many changes have been made in the Cathedral over the years. An extensive interior renovation and construction of a gathering space and social hall was dedicated on April 26, 2001 by Bishop William L. Higi.
Source: St. Mary Cathedral Parish Guide Book & Directory, 2005.
St. Mary has a long tradition of providing a quality, Catholic education for the children of the parish. We would like to share with you some information about our school and the Lafayette Catholic School System (LCSS).
St. Mary Elementary School is part of the Lafayette Catholic School System, which has approximately 835 students. St. Mary has 180+ students in grades kindergarten through third grade. St. Mary also sponsors a preschool. Our students move to St. Boniface for grades four through six. They then attend Central Catholic Junior/Senior High School for grades seven through twelve. St. Lawrence Elementary School is also part of LCSS. They have preschool through sixth grade. Tuition assistance is available for Catholics who are registered in a Lafayette-area parish.
St. Mary Elementary School is a very special school family, where children are taught the basics of their Catholic faith and learn to put that faith into action. St. Mary is alive with the joy and enthusiasm of young children. Our licensed teachers, many of whom hold masters degrees, love working with children and helping them learn. Our priests visit the classrooms on a regular basis. The children love seeing them! We are blessed with many parent volunteers who help in so many ways, such as in our library, in the lunch room, on the playground and in the classroom. Our PTO is very active. They provide us with funds to help with enrichment activities for our children. We have a strong academic curriculum and strive to meet the individual needs of all of our students. We have a Resource Room teacher who helps our children with learning disabilities or learning challenges. We have a licensed teacher who provides many wonderful enrichment opportunities for children who need extra challenges. St. Mary is accredited by the state of Indiana and the North Central Association and Commission on School Improvement. On most Fridays, grades one through three attend Mass together. The children plan the all-school Mass, do the readings, and lead the songs. You are most welcome to join us! If you have school-age children, we encourage you to consider sending them to our Catholic schools.
If you would like more information about our school or would like a tour, please call our school office or visit the St. Mary Cathedral Elementary School web page. Please keep us in prayer as we go about our mission of helping parents educate their children in our Catholic faith. We will remember you in our prayers.
The Sisters of Providence were considered the "Jesuits" of the order of sisters. They first arrived in the Lafayette area in the 1850s and taught, at that time, at St. Boniface. In 1895, they were given the responsibility of educating all of St. Mary's children at St. Mary Boys' School and St. Ignatius Academy (the girls' school which was located at the site where the Bishops Memorial Hall stands today). In fall 1923, the two schools merged into St. Mary's School. The sisters continued to teach high school girls at the Academy, renamed St. Mary's Commercial Department, until 1928 when the Sisters of St. Francis opened St. Francis Normal School and College behind St. Elizabeth Hospital. The Sisters of Providence exclusively staffed St. Mary's School until September 1956 when Mrs. Charles Deets became the first lay teacher at the school.
In 1949. the first kindergarten class was offered at St. Mary's School. Sister Ann Celine, S.P., taught 33 children who were divided into morning and afternoon classes. In 1950, children at St. Mary's School began receiving daily communion. The St. Mary's Mothers' club served the children hot chocolate during breakfast after morning Mass. In fall 1986, the Lafayette Catholic School System reorganized its schools with St. Mary housing grades K-3, St. Boniface housing grades 4-6, St. Lawrence housing grades K-6, and Central Catholic Junior-Senior High School housing grades 7-12.
In September 1954, construction began on the convent for the Sisters of Providence. The building, which cost $180,000, replaced other buildings that had been built previously in the 1860s. The two-story, 27-room building was 56 by 76 feet and was modern in every detail for the time. The convent was completed and occupied by 10 sisters in August 1955. In 1996, the parish offices were re-located from the rectory to the old convent building after the last of the Sisters of Providence left the convent.
Many remembrances of the Sisters of Providence and the old convent remain. The parish still retains the sleeping quarters above the parish office which are used during the Christ Renews His Parish Weekends. The courtyard between the school and the current parish offices, often referred to as Sister Margaret Jeanette's garden, is still maintained as a garden area with a shrine to Mary. The old convent chapel still reminds parishioners of the vows of chastity, obedience, and holy poverty depicted in the stained-glass windows. Many other artifacts in the parish office have ties to the Sisters of Providence (see the page that details the imagery in the site's banner) and, of course, the tradition of strength of St. Mary Cathedral Elementary School lives on in tribute to the Sisters of Providence who helped build such a strong academic and spiritual foundation.
Mother Theodore Guerin, founder of St. Mary-Of-The-Woods College in the early 1840s, and a member of the Sisters of Providence order, was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 15, 2006.
Contributing source for content: Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral Congregation: The One Hundred Fifty Year History 1843-1993 by James William Bayley (Taylor Publishing Company, 1993)
The year was 1996. Father Richard Weisenberger had been pastor of the Cathedral of St. Mary of Immaculate Conception for six years. With a group of volunteers, Building Committee Chairman, Michael L. Gibson, that year had repaired and painted the parish's old convent and converted the building into parish offices. After that, Mr. Gibson recalled Father Weisenberger saying, "I think we need to paint the church."
In October 1996, Mr. Gibson and about 40 others discussed what painting the then-130-year-old building would entail. Of concern were "maintenance items" which had been determined in a 1991 study conducted by Scholer Corporation.
Robert Gloyeske, Architect Chairman with Scholer Corporation, said exterior work was an obvious and immediate need. A St. Mary parishioner himself, Mr. Gloyeske said the physical condition of the building needed to be addressed before anyone focused on the inside. The building was structurally sound and "capable of being renovated," Mr. Gloyeske said.
"The concept of the first project was to stabilize the skin of the building," he said. Called "shamrock," the cement-colored outer shell has covered the building since the 1920s, protecting the poor quality brick from erosion.
"We stabilized the building ... to make it last another 130 years," he said. "The roof, the exterior, sheet metal, gutters, the steeple were all done." The foundations were strong. The copper and gold-leafed steeple cross was taken down, regilded and put back into place.
Once Bishop William L. Higi made the decision to continue with St. Mary as the diocesan cathedral in 1998, pastor and parishioners committed to the challenge of fund raising and outfitting the interior with long-needed requisites of a church containing "the bishop's chair." Parishioner surveys showed support for the project and interest in adding a social hall, which also would accommodate diocesan events. History and a hilltop location overlooking the see city cannot be duplicated, Mr. Gibson said.
St. Mary was not built as a cathedral, so the sanctuary and sacristy were too small for the number of priests during diocesan events. Also lacking were a diocesan oils ambry, a gathering space, a social hall, accessible restrooms, and two requests that Bishop Higi had: air conditioning and a new sound system.
Architects had to retain the integrity of the American Gothic style while planning improvements in a manner that blended unobtrusively, Mr. Gloyeske said. Adding air conditioning while remaining true to the building was most difficult, architects said.
Design architect with Scholer Corporation for the project was Stephan Goffinet.
"We didn't need contractors as much as we needed miners at that point," Mr. Goffinet said, referring to the ductwork tunneled in rock-hard clay beneath the building. Air conditioning vents are hidden in false side walls and returns are in the floor. Air handlers are on the roof of a new working sacristy, behind the sanctuary. The old sacristy was removed and the space rebuilt to accommodate more people and storage.
An acoustical consultant helped determine needs and options for better sound quality. Rambusch Decorating Co. of New York helped determine appropriate lighting options. Workers replaced glass in the church's chandeliers, which have been rewired and moved from the center to the outer vaults of the ceiling. New lighting emphasizes architectural elements of the church, Mr. Gloyeske said. Light now emanates from column capitals, and all interior lighting is programmable for different liturgical considerations.
The building committee consulted with Conrad Schmitt Studios of New Berlin, Wisconsin, for the interior color scheme. "Painting" included plaster restoration, stenciling, gilding, glazing and mural restoration. A canvas of fiberglass covers all wall and ceiling surfaces.
The church now has light oak flooring oak pews, and mahogany frames for the Stations of the Cross with wood stain becoming darker from the floor upward. Sanctuary marble is Bottocino Classico and Rouge France Incamet (French Red). The stained glass windows were clean and overglazing added.
Sharon Hueckel, parish Director of Administration, said Bishop Higi made a leap of faith in his decision to overhaul the cathedral instead of starting from scratch.
"It's an interesting juxtaposition to put brand new construction next to very, very old construction," Mrs. Hueckel said.
"We wanted to improve the church immensely in every way, but I still wanted the character of St. Mary's to be what it was when it was built," Mr. Gloyeske said. "We've brought it into the 21st century but we haven't made it into a modern church."
Liturgical consultants and various committees helped to determine what elements were necessary in a cathedral versus a parish church, Mr. Goffinet said.
Re-occurring motifs blend the new with the old. Carefully placed throughout -- on pews, in the Blessed Sacrament chapel, even in door handles and outdoor light fixtures -- are patterns of Gothic arches and quatrefoils (a four-lobed, clover-liked design). Design elements from the interior's original decorations are used, such as trompe l'oeil (a painted "trick of the eye" that appears as wooden molding) atop the Gothic arches and the Eucharistic-themed gold leafing in the apse.
People's hearts were in the project, Mr. Gibson said. "We raised over $5 million in less than 100 days in pledges. People wanted to have this project done. It was due," he said. "We've had over 600 volunteers on this project, from the fundraising all the way through." Bishop Higi added nearly $2.8 million of diocesan funds to the pledges, and North central Indiana's parishes have given $191,000.
"What's unique about this project, in terms of what I think, is how many priests have been involved in it. No one priest can take credit," said Father Bob Klemme, pastor since 2000. Msgr. Fred Potthoff's support has been vital, he said, as has the leadership of past pastors, Father Weisenberger and Father David Hellmann.
Parishioners were displaced from their church for 11 months, but parish life continued throughout the renovation. Dan Schrader, a building committee member, said schoolchildren were maneuvered safely around construction, to the credit of both Scholer Corporation and J.R. Kelly, the general contractor. Mrs. Hueckel said Chris Burke, construction project superintendent, took special care to assure the children's safety.
The outcome has been a cathedral campus outfitted to meet diocesan as well as parish needs, at a third of the cost of building a new cathedral, Mr. Gibson said.
The building now complies with U.S. Bishops' guidelines and the Americans with Disabilities Act, with wheelchair accessibility from both the lower and upper parking lots, in restrooms and even the sanctuary. A social hall with seating for 500 and a Diocesan Memorial Plaza help to accentuate the parish building's role as the diocese's mother church. Parking was neither lost nor gained, and land for future parking has been acquired.
A 25-year master plan calls for later expansion of St. Mary School, Mr. Gibson said. The next step in construction is finishing the social hall's lower level.
A new century and $8.2 million after initial planning, the church has been painted -- and transformed. It is the magnificent "new" cathedral of the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana, where the grandeur of more than a century remains.
Mr. Gibson counts 500 meetings to plan and execute the project. About what has been accomplished he reflects, "It does give you a sense that you are in the presence of God."
Source: Commemorative Booklet for the 2001 Renovation (Produced by the Pastoral Office for Planning and Communications, Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana)