August 14, 1909
A procession of 100 choir boys preceded the cathedral's dedication, 200 young women in white, forty priests, eight bishops, five archbishops and James Cardinal Gibbons--highest prelate in the US. The 9:30 A.M. dedication service was followed by a co-celebrated Pontifical Mass at 11 o'clock--the principal celebrant the Right. Reverend Bishop Lawrence Scanlan and the homily given by his eminence Archbishop John Joseph Glennon of St. Louis.
To some it is surprising that there were enough Catholics here in 1909 to have a diocese, but Catholicism has a long history in what is now Utah. Undoubtedly, they celebrated the first mass during the Dominguez- Escalante expedition of 1776. Also, many mountain men and explorers were Catholic. There is a reference by an anti-papist officer of a Catholic clergyman Franciscan Father Bonaventure Keller, present at Camp Floyd in June of 1859. This priest reportedly performed 26 baptisms and three marriages during his six-month stay. Also, he celebrated Utah's first recorded requiem mass for Private John McKay in July 1859. After Keller's short stay a permanent stream of Catholic clergy came to the territory. Generally, they were assigned to military posts that Irish immigrant soldiers heavily populated. Yet, there were few secular parishes.
Over the years, especially due to Camp Douglas in the 1860's, the Catholic population grew here in the city and the parish of St. Mary Magdalene was established in 1866. A folk legend states that Brigham Young donated the land where the cathedral stands but the facts are this: when the northwest corner of 1st S and 2nd E was purchased in good faith by Fr. Edward Kelly in November 1866 to build a church, the title was not legally clear. As Father Kelly did want to go through litigation, he asked the contestant to summit to the mediation of BrighamYoung. President Young found that the good faith purchase was valid. But back to the cathedral.
On August 14, 1873, Father Lawrence Scanlan became pastor of St. Mary Magdalene, and the next 13 years showed a rapid growth in the Catholic population in the city and the territory. Fr. Scanlan became Bishop of Salt Lake City in 1886 and purchased the site of the cathedral at South Temple and B St. for $35,000 in 1890. Ground breaking was July 4, 1899 and the cornerstone was laid a year later. Designed by German born, Salt Lake architect Carl Neuhausen, the cathedral progressed slowly so the financial burden would be minimal.
A committee oversaw the project, headed by Senator Thomas Kearns. Unfortunately, the project outlived the designer, so, with Neuhausen's death in 1907, architect Bernard Mecklenberg took over to finish the towers and roof. This was the year the parish of St. Mary Magdalene began to use the auditorium in the basement of the new cathedral and closed the old church building. Bishop Scanlan admitted to not being an artist and had the interior walls of the cathedral painted green with white pillars just like St. Mary Magdalene Church. When the right Carrara marble for the altar could not be found in Italy, they decided to use a brown mottled marble from here in state and many members of the Catholic community donated the stained glass windows.
In the 1920's, they enhanced the decorative interior with changes made by Bishop Glass with architect John Theodore Comes overseeing the work including frescoes on the ceiling and around the altar. With these changes, Bishop Glass renamed the church Cathedral of the Madeleine. There would be a renovation and restoration in the 1990's, but that first dedication ceremony and Pontifical Mass will always be the true hallmark in this great building's history.
The construction of this great building had many effects on the community including festivities surrounding this first mass. And while there is no known direct connection, it is interesting that the day after the dedication, the Utah Ice and Cold Storage Co. announced they had used the last of their 3,000-ton reserve of natural and artificial ice. The 200+ tons needed each day by the people of the city was not available, with roughly 100 tons a day shortfall in natural and artificial ice. There was not enough ice to see the city through September. Although it was noted there had been an unusually warm June and July, it was clear, Salt Lake had outgrown its ice supply and there was an ice famine.
Detailed tours of the Cathedral are available Sunday afternoons.