FORT WAYNE — Though the structure itself is large and imposing, “the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception fits snugly in my heart,” said longtime parishioner Patty Martone.
Martone’s sentiments surely reflected those of the hundreds of cathedral parishioners who gathered to worship at the 11:30 a.m. Mass Sunday, Sept. 25, and assemble afterward on the cathedral grounds for dinner and entertainment. Greetings and fond remembrances were exchanged by all at the commemorative event.
Parishioner Carolyn O’Rourke, coordinator of the day’s festivities, was pleased. “It’s gone very well. Everyone said yes when asked to help,” she said, making her job easier.
Ninety-two-year-old Mary Gebhard was hoping to share with Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades pictures of her daughter’s wedding at the cathedral more than 50 years ago. And church secretary Janice Buck said, “It’s been wonderful, very enjoyable. I’m having a good time.”
Julie Winn spoke on behalf of the newly-immigrated Burmese parishioners when she said, “We appreciate you accepting us in this parish.”
The afternoon was also highlighted by several tours inside the cathedral. Parishioner Tom Smith led a tour of the crypt below the sanctuary where relics of the saints are enshrined and the remains of seven former bishops are entombed. Carl Halverson enlightened listeners on the history of the stained glass windows depicting scenes from the life of Mary, the Mother of God, that line both sides of the nave, and the elaborately wood-carved Stations of the Cross, all imported from Germany. Frank Avila conducted tours of the sanctuary and the sacristy. And Pauline Flynn led a tour of St. Mother Theodore Guérin Chapel on the cathedral grounds.
Earlier, Bishop Rhoades celebrated the anniversary Mass of the cathedral parish, along with Bishop John M. D’Arcy, bishop emeritus, rector Msgr. Robert Schulte, Father Robert Traub, Father Adam Schmitt and Father Jason Freiburger.
The pews were filled to overflowing with parishioners as Bishop Rhoades greeted them warmly. “What a joy it is to gather in this beautiful cathedral … to celebrate the 175th anniversary of this cathedral parish.”
He continued, “This parish existed as a community of faith 24 years before this beautiful church was constructed under the leadership and guidance of the great pioneer pastor, Msgr. Julian Benoit.” The bishop recounted the early years of the parish, the first church constructed on the site in 1836 named after St. Augustine, the first school houses and the Sisters of Providence and Brothers of the Holy Cross who staffed them, and the first bishop of the new diocese established in 1857, Bishop John Henry Luers.
The first parishioners were largely immigrants from Ireland and Germany who worked on the Wabash-Erie Canal, some French-Canadians and native Miami Indians. The cornerstone for the present cathedral was laid in 1859 when the diocese had grown to 18,000 Catholics.
Today, the large “Mission Crucifix” which hangs from the south pillar in the sanctuary is the oldest, single religious work of art in the cathedral and once hung in St. Augustine Church, noted Bishop Rhoades.
The bishop then invited his listeners to turn to the words of St. Paul proclaimed in the day’s liturgy. St. Paul asked the Philippians to complete his joy “by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.”
“What wonderful advice for every community of the faithful and for this parish on this landmark anniversary!” said Bishop Rhoades, adding, “This parish community is not the most prosperous in Fort Wayne. It is not the largest in Fort Wayne. But it is the oldest in Fort Wayne. … What is most important is that this parish community be a holy community, one that is united in faith and love … this is what completes my joy.”
The bishop concluded by saying, “Thank God for the rich history of the cathedral parish. … May St. Augustine, the original patron, and Mary Immaculate, our present patroness, intercede for us and help us to be faithful disciples of her Son, who for 175 years here in this parish has been confessed as Lord to the glory of God the Father.”
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