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Parish History

The Beginnings of the Parish

written by Rev. Mr. James Gorski


Due to overcrowded conditions in St. Patrick's church and a desire for a new church to be more centrally located in the city of Columbus, in the summer of 1866 Rev. Edward M. Fitzgerald, then pastor of St. Patrick’s took steps in the construction of a new church. Father Fitzgerald was encouraged by the generous donations made accumulating nearly $37,000 from around 250 individuals. From the more influential members of St. Patrick's was chosen a building committee. The committee consisted of John Conahan, Theodore Leonard, treasurer, John Joyce, John D, Clarke, Thomas Bergin, William Naghten, secretary, John Caren, Michael Harding, William Wall, James Naughton, William Riches, John McCabe, Michael Hartman, John Duffy, Martin Whalen, Bernard NcNally and Michael Galvin.1

A subcommittee was selected to examine and discuss favorable locations for the church. Many eligible sites were proposed , but the prevailing desire was to have the church erected on Broad Street. Two lots with a total frontage of 120 feet on Broad Street and a depth of 200 feet on Fifth Street were purchased from John Miller, through John Joyce, on April 1866 for a price of $13,500.2  A meeting was held of the men of St. Patrick’s parish to determine the name of the new church. Rev. Fitzgerald left the choice to those in the meeting. A motion was made by J. D. Clark to adopt the name of St. Joseph, it was seconded and agreed to thus came the name of St. Joseph church on Broad and Fifth Street. Michael Harding was the architect that was requested to prepare plans and specifications for the church. It was projected to be 193 feet in length and 90 feet in width. The plans were modified slightly as to the superstructure as the work progressed but otherwise remained as first proposed. Mr. Harding staked out the foundation on June 6, 1866 and John McCabe, the contractor began to work of excavating the site. John Stoddard was then contracted for the masonry work. The work continued on the foundation until November 11, 1866 when the first cornerstone was laid.3

It was a beautiful and chilly November day when the processions started from St. Patrick's. The most reverend Archbishop Purcell was expected to be present on this joyous occasion but because of conflicting scheduling did not attend. In his place Right Rev. Doctor Sylvester H. Rosecrans, Auxiliary Bishop of Cincinnati attended. The procession started at 2 p.m. with Capt. William Riches as chief marshal and the following individuals as assistants: City Marshall Patrick Murphy, Thomas Bergin, James Joyce. J. C. Nevill, Patrick Dunn, George Burke, John Howard, William Naghten, John Caren. The procession moved in the following order: Hemmersbach’s brass band, St. Joseph’s Mutual Benevolent Society, St. Boniface’s St. John’s, St. Martin’s and St. Aloysius’s Societies of Holy Cross Church, Sub deacon carrying a processional cross accompanied by acolytes, twenty sanctuary boys in cassock and surplice, carriages containing the Bishop and clergy, Sodality of the Blessed Virgin, Holy Angels Society, the class of boys and girls who had received First Communion and Confirmation on the morning of that day, St. Patrick’s Society from London, Societies from Newark and Delaware, and finally St. Patrick’s Society of Columbus. It was noted that the procession was quite colorful with big banners and beautiful regalia worn by the participants. The procession moved along Grant Ave. (formally known as Seventh St.) to Broad where it turned west and stopped at Fifth St. Arriving at the foundation of the church, the societies formed a guard on the outer wall. It was noted that the windows of the neighboring houses, the streets, and grounds were filled with people awaiting the ceremonies.4

The corner stone was laid on the southeast corner of the building, at the intersection of Broad and Fifth. In it’s cavity was placed a sealed tin box, continuing the name of the church, the names of the principal officers of the State and National governments, copies of recent Columbus newspapers, the names of the reigning Pope, the Archbishop of the Province, and pastor. Also included were the names of the officiating Bishop and his assistants, and numerous other articles to serve as mementos of the occasion. Bishop Rosecrans delivered and address from a temporary platform and was said to be eloquent and forcible in the language he used pleading the divinity of the Catholic Church. At the conclusion of the sermon, the Hemmersbach band played "Te Deum". The clergy present were Rev. Father O’Reilly of Valparaiso, Ind. Rev. John B. Murray of Chillicothe, Revs. Louis Cartuyvel and Daily of Newark, Rev. E. M. Fitzgerald of St. Patrick’s Church, Revs. John B. Hemsteger and F. X. Specht of Holy Cross Church, Rev. Father Hillebrand of St. Francis Hospital. Special trains on different railroads brought large delegations from adjoining towns with the number of individuals being estimated at 6000. With the corner stone being laid, the foundation walls were covered over for the winter with the intention to resume work on the building with the advent of spring.5

Papal Bulls were received naming Father Fitzgerald Bishop of Little Rock Arkansas. He was consecrated February 1867. On February 28, 1867 Rt. Rev. Sylvester H. Rosecrans was transferred to Columbus St. Patrick Church as its pastor. March 3, 1868 Bishop Rosecrans was named First Bishop of Columbus. Bishop Rosecrans immediately went to work to finish St. Joseph’s. Mr. Robert T. Brookes was commissioned to succeed Mr. Harding as architect.6  Since the church was now to become a cathedral, a few changes were made in the construction plans. It was decide to construct the building of stone instead of brick. This necessitated a firmer and deeper foundation to be constructed. The old walls were torn down to build new ones in their place.

In tearing up the old foundation, the original cornerstone was removed or covered. There is no trace of its existence today. Newspaper accounts around this time stated a change, there was to be a 312 foot clock tower with three clock faces and a chime of ten bells to be located on the southwest corner. The south east tower of the cathedral was to reach a height of 200 feet. The main tower was never completed beyond where it stands today. The east tower never completed beyond the choir gallery level. Beneath the proposed bell tower would house the baptistery.7

The cathedral building was designed Gothic in architecture and the outside finish was to be of boasted ashlar, the chiseling of the stone relieving the dead appearance of a yellow stone wall. This stone possesses the property of hardening by exposure to air, and was obtained principally from quarries in Licking and Fairfield counties. The dimensions of the building are 92 feet on Broad street and 185 feet on Fifth Street. The outside walls are 42 feet in height from the ground level and 34 feet from the floor line. The clearstory walls have an altitude of 70 feet from the ground and 62 feet from the floor. The main walls are 3 feet thick. The clearstory walls supported by arches, rest on clusters of Gothic columns, standing on dressed limestone pedestals. Stone crosses surmount the outside walls at intervals to give relief to the wall structure. The windows are cased in freestone obtained in Pickaway County. The brackets were cut from Columbus limestone and are said to be the only stone articles in the structure procured from Columbus.8

The original seating capacity was projected at 2000 individuals however current capacity seat just under 700. On Broad Street there are 3 main entrances and on Fifth Street one. Entrance is gained to the sacristies by a door at the rear on Fifth Street and from the pastoral residence on the west side. The arching of the windows and the supports of the clearstory carry out the directions of General W.S. Rosecrans who, in the summer of 1870, spent time with his brother, the Right Rev. Bishop Rosecrans in ironing out certain details of the construction of the cathedral. The stained glass windows that depict various scenes of Saints, the Holy Family and various religious symbols were all donated.

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