Rev. EDWARD JACKMAN, o.p.
ARCHIVIST - HISTORIAN FOR flIRCAT
Historical Institute of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto
THE HISTORY OF THE PARISH OF THE CATHEDRAL OF ST. CATHERINE
The first Catholic church at St. Catharines was built to meet the spiritual needs of the Irish labourers who built the first Welland Canal which was opened in 1829. It was a wood structure on the samesite as the present Cathedral and was called St. John's because the Anglicans were already using the name St. Catherine for their church in the town of the same name.
On November 12, 1831, Bishop Alexander Macdonell of Kingston blessed and opened this church which was the first Roman Catholic Parish church to be built in the Niagara Peninsula. The title deed to the land for this church was signed on April 13, 1832 by Bishop Macdonell and others.
This first Catholic Church was burned down by an arsonist on August 23, 1842. Fortunately the second Welland Canal was being built between 1842-45 and thus there were once again many Irish labourers in the area. There was much sickness in the work camps and Dr. Constantine Lee, then Pastor at St. Catharines, contracted one of the diseases while ministering to the workers and died in the winter of 1842-43. Wherever there was a church and a priest there soon would be numerous Irish families who wished to have the pastoral services of the church readily available to them.
Often there were delays in construction of the canal and so under the guidance of their new Pastor, the Rev. Patrick McDonagh, the Irish workers used their free time to build a new parish church, this time of stone, as we can see in the structure of the present Cathedral Church. Father McDonagh laid the cornerstone on Ascension Day, May 25,1843. The Irish canal workers continued to build the church for the next two years -- for which there is a commemorative stone in Latin, dated 1844, by the entrance to the church. Father McDonagh opened the new church on June 10, 1845. The new church was now dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria - the name then being free since the Anglicans had built a new church which was dedicated
to St. George, their first church also having been burnt. The building of the new church also diverted the canal workers from rioting against others and brawling amongst themselves, common enough occurrences in those times, especially around St. Patrick's Day.
During the latter part of the nineteenth century many additions were made lo the church to give us the structure we have now. In the post-Vatican II period its interior was updated somewhat to give us the fine appearance that it has today.
For almost a century the church was usually the seat of the Deanery of St. Catharines, the Dean residing at its Rectory. In 1945 it celebrated the centennial of the opening of the present church. On November 25,1958 it became the Cathedral Church of the newly formed Diocese of St. Catharines.
HISTORY AFTER 1982
In 1982 it celebrated the sesquicentennial
(150th) anniversary since its legal establishment by government deed in 1832. On Sunday, September 19, 1982 an historical plaque was blessed in the Cathedral by Bishop Fulton and dedicated by His Excellency Sean P. Kennan, the Irish Ambassador to Canada. This was the first diocesan historical plaque to be dedicated in the Diocese and was also the first time the new diocesan crest was displayed in public.
In the mid to late 1980’s a number of renovations took place in the Cathedral under the direction of Msgr. M.J. Schaefer. Much work had to be done in the Church St. wing because of so much leaking from the side walls and the deterioration of the support beams for the floor. Later, the whole interior of the church was painted. A new organ, Opus 12, by the Letourneau Organ Company of Quebec was formally blessed on November 25th, 1990. New furnishings for the Cathedral had also be done by the wood carvers of the Letourneau Organ Company. These included the tabernacle, Bishop’s throne, reredos, ambo, pews in main section of the church, and the baptismal font.
A parish campaign, Spiritus Communitatis, under the leadership of Msgr. Vladimir Zivcic, was undertaken in the late 1990’s to retire the debt to the Diocese and to make the Cathedral accessible. An elevator was installed in the fall of 2004. The new entranceway gave the church a larger gathering space, a wheelchair accessible washroom, and a new entrance to the Parish Hall with a new storage room.
In 2006, at the direction of Msgr. Wayne Kirkpatrick, the paintings of the Nativity and Resurrection (which had been taken down in the 1980s) were repaired by Dagmar Thoms and framed. New lighting in the church, an ambry for the Holy Oils and holy water receptacle were also added.
The 50th Anniversary of the Diocese was celebrated with great joy in 2008.
Fr. Paul McDonald had the paintings of the Nativity and Resurrection permanently affixed to either side of the Crucifixion window in 2012. In 2014 Fr. Paul was also responsible for having a new Altar built in the Blessed Sacrament Wing dedicated to Our Lady and having the statue of Our Lady with the Child Jesus, restored and placed there.
In the fall of 2015 Fr. Donald Lizzotti reopened the second front door of the Cathedral and restored the Baptistry area. This door was used as a Holy Door during the Jubilee Year of Mercy which took place from December 2015 to November 2016.
Recently we have discovered damage to the copper spire and so are getting estimates for the repair.
Plans are now underway to Restore the whole interior of the Cathedral which looks so gray and worn. This would include solving the moisture problem on some of the walls, renew the lighting with new chandeliers restored to the center of the Nave and wings, repaint the ceilings and walls with stencil designs and original symbols that were painted over. The Sanctuary would be renewed with marble flooring (from the former back-drop (Reredos) as well as new flooring to replace carpets throughout the Church.
Long range work would see the replacement of the two side entrances because they have deteriorated and may be dangerous and the possible development of the church basement as a Columbarium. (originally planned by Msgr. Schaefer in the 1980’s)