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Cathedral's Beauty Pleases
By Ana Maria M. Kin, Anwar Asad and Jessica Soto
For all El Paso residents, St. Patrick's is a landmark, but for the city's Catholic population, it is the cornerstone of their worship, the cathedral of the El Paso Diocese. In the hierarchy of Catholicism, there are approximately 2,000 "dioceses." A diocese defines the jurisdiction of each bishop within the church and aids in meeting the needs of the community.
A bishop is the head of all of the churches within his particular diocese. The church in which the bishop presides over services and ceremonies is called a cathedral, a term from the Greek "kathedra," meaning "seat." In essence, a cathedral is the bishop's seat in the diocese.
In 1881, the frontier town of El Paso had 300 Catholic residents but no priest and no church. El Pasoans had to cross the border into Juárez to attend mass. On Oct. 25, 1881, Father Charles Persone began a service in a room in the public hall in the Slade Building. About 20 English-speaking Catholics attended the first services in the city.
Joseph Maggofin, E.V. Berrier, M. McNeil and other local residents donated $700 to begin a fund for a new church. St. Mary's, later known as Holy Family Chapel, opened its doors at North Oregon Street on Aug. 3, 1882.
Father Charles M. Pinto supervised the construction of Sacred Heart Church on Oregon Street and the Church of the Immaculate Conception on the corner of North Campbell and Myrtle Avenue in 1893. But as the city progressed and grew, these and other churches became insufficient to house El Paso's Catholic population.
More than 100 men met on Oct. 13, 1913, to discuss the building of a new church, resulting in pledges of $7,500. Altar Society women raised $2,000 through church socials and other activities. St. Mary's raised a total of $12,000 toward the new church. In December, parishioners received announcements that the first individual donor of $10,000 would receive the honor of naming the new church.
Mrs. Delia Lane presented Reverend Edward Barry with a check for the $10,000 on Dec. 31, 1913. She passed on the privilege of naming the cathedral to the Daughters of Erin, of which she was a member. This group of Catholic women of Irish descent came into existence in 1894 to preserve Irish heritage and culture and to defend the Church, its priests and the country. The El Paso chapter voted unanimously to name the church after St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland.
Church leaders considered several different sites for the church. After four months of research and debate, land at the corner of Mesa and Arizona Streets was purchased for $20,000. The land consisted of five lots with a frontage of 198 feet on Mesa Street and 122 feet on Arizona Street, plenty of room for the cathedral and parochial residence. This site was chosen with a belief that in a few years it would be a central location in El Paso.
A St. Louis architectural firm, Barnett, Hynes, and Barnett designed the church. Contractors Kroeger, Mayfield, and Shaw broke ground on April 8, 1914, and Reverend Edward Barry officiated at a ceremony to bless the cornerstone on Nov. 12, 1916. Barnett chose a Byzantine basilica and designed the floors of inlaid tile surrounded by a marble border. The architecture is termed Northern Italian/Romanesque or Italian Renaissance.
In the sanctuary, row after row of arches are met at each end with towering columns reminiscent of Rome. Elaborate frescoes of Biblical scenes adorn the Cathedral. Paneled into the walls in bas-relief are the stations of the cross. A grand altar houses an impressive statue of Christ. To the left of the statue is the Bishop's seat. A golden eagle adorns the ceiling above the altar and confessionals framed in beautifully carved wood are located on each side of the pews. The church seated 800 people when the doors opened on Nov. 29, 1917.
Despite the size of the cathedral itself, parishioners, led by Father O'Leary, saw the need for a building where members could gather to discuss church matters, hold social activities and build stronger community ties. On May 13, 1923, the two-story St. Patrick's Community Center was completed. The first floor featured the largest indoor swimming pool in the city, an auditorium that could hold 800 people and a gymnasium with running tracks. The second floor was to be a parochial school. There was a garden on the roof that would prove to be perfect for dances and movies.
A newsletter called "The Crier" kept parishioners aware of all of the activities available to them. The community center hosted mother-daughter teas, receptions, classes, athletic programs and many other activities. In November 1926, a banquet hall and separate dining room were added.
The second floor of the building was reserved for a coed parochial school. In the beginning, the first eight grades were taught at the school, but in 1925, a high school department was added. The Christian Brothers came to teach the secondary students.
As enrollment increased, Bishop Anthony J. Schuler, S. J., saw the need for a separate grammar school. Girls were sent to be taught at Loretto Academy, and St. Patrick's Parochial School opened in 1926 at 1111 Stanton. The secondary level classes at St. Patrick's became a boys' high school later known as Cathedral High School.
The community center closed because of growth and transition. Cathedral High School now uses the building. The current bishop is the Most Reverend Armando X. Ochoa, D.D. Also part of the parish team are Rev. Richard A. Matty and Rev. Manuel Muñoz.
St. Patrick's offers four English and two Spanish services on Sundays. Two bilingual masses are conducted daily. The cathedral continues to serve the city's Catholic population with programs like Project Gabriel, which supplies baby supplies to needy mothers. The St. Vincent De Paul Program provides help with rent and utilities for people in need living in the 79902 area code. The church also feeds the homeless daily.
In 1989, lightning struck and burned the steeple of St. Patrick's. One county commissioner claimed God was angry at the priests. The steeple was restored and other renovations included creating a new entry and making the cathedral accessible to the disabled.
Throughout the years, the overall vision of the cathedral and its parish have not changed: uniting El Paso's Catholics and helping the general community. The cathedral remains a landmark in El Paso today and is one of the most beautiful churches in El Paso.