Ahead of Mass, unfair criticism, but real problems

| February 26, 2015 | 0 Comments
Archbishop John Ireland commissioned the cathedral in 1904.

Archbishop John Ireland commissioned the cathedral in 1904.

A continuous series of rumors dogged construction of the Cathedral of St. Paul from the start, irritating Archbishop John Ireland.

An anecdote that a Chicago newspaper called the project “Ireland’s Folly” could not be verified, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it were true.

“As early as May 1904, Ireland denied newspaper reports in both the Twin Cities and Chicago that the cathedral would cost millions of dollars,” wrote historian Eric C. Hansen in his 1990 book, “The Cathedral of St. Paul: An Architectural Biography.”

Archbishop Ireland denied the reports, calling the figures “extravagantly high.”

In 1908, with the lower level of the cathedral well under way, it got back to the archbishop that rumors were circulating that his building project would cost $4.5 million and take 12 years.

Archbishop Ireland showed his irritation in a letter back to Charles H.F. Smith, who had purchased the site of the building for the archdiocese:

“What you write . . . is amusing and somewhat annoying,” the archbishop responded. “Really, our American press surpasses all bounds in its sensationalism.”

The cost ended up being $1.6 million and taking nine years. A reality of the situation, however, was that by 1908, with construction in its third year, donations to the building fund had slowed.

Archbishop Ireland levied an assessment on each parish, “the specific amount to be determined by the financial state of each congregation,” Hansen noted.

The legendary archbishop also charged Father John J. Lawler with soliciting funds “from prominent Catholics who had not as yet donated,” and “polite reminders” were sent to those whose “subscriptions,” or pledges, were in arrears.

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Category: Cathedral Centennial