I have traveled to many different cities around Europe and the United States; and one of the first places I like to visit in these cities is the local cathedral church. In Europe, that’s not so difficult because there are so many dioceses and most large cities have cathedrals. In the United States it may become a bit more challenging since the diocesan centers (and, hence, the cathedral churches) are fairly distant from each other. Nevertheless, cathedrals tell the great story of the faith for the local Church. They have become the living biographies, as it were, of the lives of our ancestors who have paved the way for us to be here and to live our faith today!
That brings me to today’s very interesting point. Our cathedral, under the patronage of St. Joseph the Workman, begins some major anniversary celebrations this Sunday, May 6, at the 10:30 a.m. Mass. The Cathedral Parish begins its 150th or sesquicentennial anniversary and the present cathedral church building itself begins its 50-year anniversary at the same time.
The history of our Cathedral Parish and current cathedral church are fascinating and exciting! To give you an idea: Did you know that President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863? On Jan. 6, 1863, Trustees of the new St. Joseph Parish were elected. In 1864 ground was broken for the building of the new St. Joseph Church. In 1868, the Diocese of La Crosse was created with Bishop Michael Heiss as bishop and he named the new St. Joseph Parish as the site for the cathedral of his new diocese. The cornerstone was placed in May of 1869. Father Martin Kundig (of the newly created Archdiocese of Milwaukee) dedicated the cathedral on Oct. 2, 1870 because Bishop Heiss was attending the Vatican Council in Rome, leading the American delegation of bishops discussing the matter of Papal Infallibility (which was defined at this Council by Pope Pius IX).
As I was reflecting on the material that has been provided for this great anniversary celebration, I was astonished by the wonderful confluence of events that led up to the foundation of our diocese and the beautiful story of the establishment of our cathedral.
The cathedral is first and foremost the mother-church of the diocese. It is the bishop’s church and the place from which he leads, teaches, and governs the diocese. His chair in the cathedral is called the “cathedra” and only he may sit on it as the official shepherd and leader of the faithful of the diocese. Liturgies at the cathedral may, from time to time, lend themselves to a bit more solemnity than may be found in other parish churches. Many times that is due to the involvement of the bishop in those ceremonies and the rituals that often accompany them.
This anniversary celebration will take place at our cathedral for the coming year and will involve all of us in our diocese in one way or another – and everyone is invited – no, encouraged, heartily encouraged to participate. All the parishes will be invited to celebrate Mass at the cathedral through your deaneries and with your pastors and parish priests. Remember the Year of Faith will kick off on Oct. 11, 2012 and runs through to the Solemnity of Christ the King in 2013 (the end of November). Busy times lie ahead of us; they are exciting and stimulating for our faith and our lived expression of it.
I sure hope that you will find time to get to your cathedral this year. I have proclaimed a special indulgence for those people who make a pilgrimage to the cathedral and offer the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be for the special intentions of the Holy Father along with the reception of the sacraments of penance and Eucharist according to the custom of the Church. You can make a day of it in La Crosse. The city is trying to become more visitor-friendly and is providing some good family fun. We also have the beautiful Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe where daily Mass is also offered and a beautiful restaurant is available for great eats before heading back home to any of our 19 counties and beyond.
Celebrate your history and the great heritage found at our magnificent cathedral and I look forward to seeing you at Sunday Mass!