In Your Midst

The Founding of the Cathedral Parish

November 2004

November 13, 1904. 10:30 in the morning. Bishop O’Dea, his assisting priests and about two hundred of the faithful – “the nucleus of future congregation” of St. James Cathedral Parish—stand on the corner of Terry and Columbia streets, ready to dedicate St. Edward’s, the new pro-Cathedral Chapel.

It is a typical November day in Seattle: the trees are bare; the fog that has shrouded the Sound for nearly a week lifted early this morning and a light rain is falling. From where you stand, you can see the whole city spread out before you like a map; the Sound is bustling with traffic; from countless chimneys plumes of smoke rise in the morning air. Here on First Hill—a lovely neighborhood, with its wide streets lined with handsome mansions—all is quiet, though a few curious faces are peeping from neighboring windows to see what the Catholics are up to.

The Catholic Northwest Progress reported in detail on the ceremonies that November day.  Courtesy of the Archives of the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle.

The new Chapel, named for Bishop O’Dea’s patron saint, is simplicity itself—a wood-frame structure with a gabled roof, large windows, and a porch that would not be out of place on a pioneer farmhouse. (And not surprisingly, for it was designed and built by a Seattle pioneer, James Stephen.) Humble though it is, the Chapel will serve as the pro-Cathedral until the grander building is finished and so it receives the church’s full rites of dedication.

The ceremonies begin with an ancient antiphon, chanted by the choir: Adesto, Deus unus omnipotens, Pater, et Filius, et Spiritus Sanctus: “I am coming, One All-Powerful God, Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit.” Then water is blessed, and Bishop O’Dea walks around the outside of the entire chapel, sprinkling the walls with holy water, while the choir sings Psalm 87, that wonderful song of Zion, spiritual mother of all the peoples of the earth: “while they dance they will sing: In you all find their home.” Then the Bishop returns to the front doors of the Chapel, and says in a clear voice that all can hear: “O gates, lift high your heads; grow higher, ancient doors, that the king of glory may come in.” The deacons ask: “Who is this King of glory?” And the bishop and priests respond: “The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory.” Then all the people exclaim, “Aperite!”—“Open the doors!” The doors are opened, and the people fill the church for the first time.

The dedication of a church is much more than the preparation of a building for the sacred rites. The word for church in Latin and Greek—ecclesia—refers not to the building but to the people who gather there: it means assembly, and comes from a verb, to call forth. In a sense, then, church refers not to a building at all, but to those who have been called. In consecrating a church, therefore, the Church builds a house for “the church”!

St. Edward's Chapel, where the Cathedral parish was founded on November 13, 1904. The Chapel stood on the site of present-day Cathedral Place until it was torn down in 1912 to make way for the Cathedral School.  Photo courtesy of the Archives of the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle.

On this occasion, the Progress reported, Bishop O’Dea’s homily was “full of energy.” He spoke of the dedication of temples from Moses to Solomon to his own day. He evoked the great cathedrals of Europe, and he did not hesitate to compare America’s churches with them: “Approach America and look up from New York harbor, and the majestic pile of St. Patrick’s built by the pennies of the poor, reminds you that America too has her magnificent churches and temples dedicated to the living God. Not New York only, but Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, and San Francisco all bear witness to the fidelity of Catholics… From north to south, from east to west the same industry is bringing into being numberless beautiful and costly churches for the solemn duty of teaching men how to live and preparing them to die.” Seattle, Bishop O’Dea was confident, would soon take its place among them, for the site selected was “the most sightly spot on Puget Sound, if not… in the United States.”

But, as Bishop O’Dea concluded, it will do us no good to build a great cathedral if we do not grow spiritually in the process. For “the glory of God is the ultimate end sought,” he said; “life is short, man’s work is soon done and the fruits of his labor are his only in so far as they are spiritual. His material achievements belong to the world, but his spiritual treasures are in the keeping of God.”

Though it would still be some months before the ground-breaking for the new cathedral, the more important building project had already begun: the building up of a family of faith. In a very real sense, the St. James community came to life on that November day in 1904. They came to life when they began to pray together and to work together; to celebrate the sacraments; to visit the sick and those in need; and, of course, to build a Cathedral!

Adesto—I am coming. The opening words of the dedication rite must have had special meaning for this new parish community, who for the next three years would watch and wait for the ‘coming’ of their new cathedral. And the last words of the rite—chanted in the little Chapel by the pro-Cathedral Choir—formed the ideal prayer for the new community:

Perfect, Lord God,
the work you have begun in us.

Corinna Laughlin is the Pastoral Assistant for Liturgy at St. James Cathedral.


This article is fifth in a series about the early days of St. James Cathedral...

No. 1:  "The Priest, the Bishop, and the Great Northern Railway"
No. 2:  "The Cathedral Fair"
No. 3:  "Making Music in Seattle"
No. 4:  "The Cathedral Builders"
No. 5:  "The Founding of the Cathedral Parish"
No. 6:  "Bishop O'Dea's Neighbors"
No. 7:  "An Innocent Abroad: Bishop O'Dea Goes to Rome"

No. 8:  "The Laying of the Cornerstone"

Other articles in the November 2004

Celebrating the Human Part of this Great Place

The Century at St. James

The Pew Next to You

Parish Annual Report 2003-2004

The Cathedral in Cyberspace

Image of the Divine

Cathedral Almanac

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