Editor’s note: At a recent First Friday Prayer Breakfast, Bishop McDonnell entertained his audience with many anecdotes and much information about St. Michael’s Cathedral, before it was a cathedral.
He shared the notes from his talk with the diocesan blog so that others might learn about the rich history of our cathedral.
(Modern exterior Photos by Jeff Pajak, Catholic Communications intern)
On Sept. 27, 1840, the first priest was assigned to Springfield. His name was Father George Reardon. He didn’t let any moss grow under his feet. Less than a month later, on Oct. 22, 1840, he purchased a lot on Union Street for $700. He purchased an adjacent lot for $1,000 in 1846.
He celebrated Mass two times a motnh in private homes and later in a factory on State Street. Then on Oct. 15, 1846 he bought the Baptist Tabernacle, which measured 40 feet by 70 feet. This was moved to Union Street. And in 1847, the church was dedicated to St. Benedict and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
By 1849 there were 400 members.
Father John Julius Dougherty was the new pastor. He ministered to Springfield and Saxonville, Framingham, Natick, Sudbury, Stowe, Ware, Palmer, Westfield, Rockbottom, Indian Orchard, Monson and Brookfield. He visited each place once a month. Now that is a big parish.
He bought land for a new church but the parishioners thought it was too far out of town at the corner of Chestnut and Liberty Streets.
It is interesting to note that the far away property was sold to the Beaven family — which gave the Springfield Diocese its second bishop, Thomas Beaven.
In 1852 Father Micheal Galligher (Some spell it Gallagher) enlarged the Union Street site, but he had his eyes on bigger things.
He bought property on Elliot Street in 1860.
He had been thwarted in a previous purchase up near the Springfield Armory. This time, though, he bought a variety of parcels that gave him land from the corner of State and Elliot Streets to Salem Streets.
He later re-sold some of the land and kept the property from Edwards Street — and he turned a profit.
He had paid $34, 750 for all of the lots. And he re-sold the lots from Edward Street north for $35,000.
In July of 1860, ground was broken for St. Michael’s Church. It was constructed relatively quickly and the first Mass was held there on Chrismas Day, 1861.
The architect was the famous Patirck Kiely. Construction cost was $75,000. Later, an E.G.G. Organ was installed. The St. Augustine Chapel and crypt also were added later.
New Englanders were still not celebrating Christmas at the time the church held its first Mass. However, Father Galligher was a smart man and good with public relations and community outreach.
The parish offered a free public concert on Dec. 27, 1861 — just two days after the first Mass. It received a nice write up in the paper and many distinguished guests attended the event.
Father Galligher had named the church in honor of his own patron saint.
The fiscally sound pastor worked hard and the parish was debt free by Sept. 28, 1867. This meant that the building could be consecrated as a church. Bishop John Joseph Williams of Boston traveled to Springfield for the ceremony. History books note that it was the first consecrated church in New England.
Sadly, Father Galligher died in 1869. His burial spot is on the left side of the cathedral entrance.
On June 14, 1870 — the Diocese of Springfield was erected. That makes our diocese 140 years old.
Cardinal John McCloskey of New York dedicated the building on Sept. 25, 1870.
Today, people pass by the historic place on State Street and know it as the site of ordinations and Chrism Masses. However, it also brings with it a very rich history as a building that served some of Springfield’s earliest Catholics.