Church builders

| November 19, 2015 | 0 Comments
Mary Mehegan Hill (seated in chair), devout Catholic and wife of railroad tycoon James J. Hill, poses with her daughters. The Hill women were key financial supporters of the Cathedral of St. Paul around the time of its completion in 1915 and after. Courtesy Cathedral of St. Paul

Mary Mehegan Hill (seated in chair), devout Catholic and wife of railroad tycoon James J. Hill, poses with her daughters. The Hill women were key financial supporters of the Cathedral of St. Paul around the time of its completion in 1915 and after. Courtesy Cathedral of St. Paul

Cathedral events honor founding women

A final event celebrating the Cathedral of St. Paul’s centennial is likely to be an evening of “did you knows?”

For instance, did you know that women donated most of the stained glass windows in the Cathedral? Or that the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet raised $30,000 in 1914 for the Chapel of St. Joseph by selling cookbooks?

And then there were the hundreds of women who contributed in other ways.

Despite their hard work, many of the instrumental women cannot be named because they are not in the Cathedral’s records, said event organizer and Cathedral staff member Mary Connelly. Honoring them with the final event, she said, “is a perfect way to remind people that it wasn’t men alone. The women really complete the whole picture. They’re a huge force, especially the Sisters of St. Joseph.”

“The Women Who Helped Build the Cathedral of St. Paul” begins at 6 p.m. Dec. 1 at the James J. Hill House, 240 Summit Ave., St. Paul, a half-block from the Cathedral. The event includes a social hour, dinner, a historic presentation, musical entertainment and tours of the home of the railroad tycoon and his family, now in care of the Minnesota Historical Society.

“Historically, we thought the Hill mansion would be an appropriate place to have it; Mary Mehegan Hill was a devout Catholic and a supporter of many Catholic causes,” Connelly noted.

One of the Hill daughters, Charlotte Hill Slade, donated the Cathedral’s altar and baldachin in honor of her father. Other Hill daughters also made contributions.

Proud to play a part

The Cathedral of St. Paul after its completion in 1915. Courtesy Cathedral of St. Paul

The Cathedral of St. Paul after its completion in 1915. Courtesy Cathedral
of St. Paul

Archbishop John Ireland, who commissioned the Cathedral’s construction, and Emmanuel Louis Masqueray, its architect, generally are the historic names associated with the Cathedral of St. Paul. Many aren’t as familiar with the role women played to help build the Cathedral before and upon its exterior completion in 1915.

“Archbishop Ireland raised the money for the meat of it, but someone had to fill it up, and those were the women,” said Celeste Raspanti, Cathedral archivist and parishioner.

Women funded three of the Cathedral’s largest chapels — the Chapel of St. Peter, the Chapel of St. Joseph and the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The monetary donations also made possible the furnishing and embellishing.

In a letter dated Sept. 19, 1952, Minnie A. Bell of St. Paul wrote to then-rector Msgr. George Ryan to pledge $1,500 for stained glass windows in honor of her parents. An undated letter to Msgr. Ryan also pledged money for the stained glass fund “in thanksgiving for the comfort I have had in being able to go to Mass or visit Our Lord at the Cathedral. And for the prayers and kindness of all the priests,” wrote Mrs. J. Waldorf, who signed the letter, “A child of Mary’s.”

Connelly noted that most of the donations for the Cathedral came from ordinary women “who weren’t wealthy by any means.” Cathedral records show that a cook for a wealthy family made monthly pledges to fund the inset marble shield on the floor of the sanctuary, now covered by the altar.

In this photo of Cathedral parish activities dated May 18, 1947, Mrs. John F. Fallon, left, pours tea with Mrs. John Varstraete, one of the first brides to be married in the Cathedral (1916), and Msgr. George Ryan, rector of the Cathedral, at an open house. Courtesy Cathedral of St. Paul

In this photo of Cathedral parish activities dated May 18, 1947, Mrs. John F. Fallon, left, pours tea with Mrs. John Varstraete, one of the first brides to be married in the Cathedral (1916), and Msgr. George Ryan, rector of the Cathedral, at an open house. Courtesy Cathedral of St. Paul

Building a church and the Church

Aside from women’s financial contributions, there also were contributions of time and might from the women who scrubbed floors, arranged flowers, and washed and ironed vestments and altar cloths, noted Raspanti, who’ll present at the event.

And women in parish associations played an instrumental role in building the Cathedral as a community.

“In the women of the Cathedral, there has always been this mission of taking care of the Cathedral, and yet, being sure there’s an extension of that,” Raspanti said. “And that’s an important part of our tribute.”

Raspanti highlighted the Ladies Catholic Benevolent Society, which Archbishop Ireland founded around the 1860s. Members took care of the

altar, but also had a house on Marshall Avenue for unwed mothers, providing for all the needs of the women there.

Then there was the St. Paul Eucharistic Society, which provided everything used in the Mass. Members raised money for the items and took care of them. They later extended this ministry to needy parishes.

With parents of children at the Cathedral school, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet built the future of the Cathedral through education, raising “generations of parishioners,” Raspanti said. “And that’s part of the building; it’s not just the stone.”

Connelly added that the Sisters of St. Joseph — whose provincial superior at the time was Archbishop Ireland’s younger sister, Mother Seraphine —  had a huge impact because they inspired a lot of people.

“As the faith of the people started over from whatever country they came from, their Catholic faith was their show of faith in a beautiful Cathedral,” she said.

Find more information about the event online or call 651-228-1766.

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