Dedication of Saint Francis Xavier Cathedral-August 8, 1841
Today, August 8, marks the 170th anniversary of the formal dedication of the Cathedral of Saint Francis Xavier in Vincennes. Even though the church was built much earlier, what we now call the “Old Cathedral” was finally dedicated on this day by Bishop Hailandiére.
On March 30, 1826 the Vincennes Sun reported:
The cornerstone of the Catholic Cathedral, in this place, was laid on Thursday the 30th by the Rev. Mr. Champomier. A numerous concourse of citizens attended to witness the ceremony”
Vincennes was then mission country and there wasn’t much to the building itself. Bishop Bruté, when he arrived in the Fall of 1834, wrote:
“The Cathedral church, a plain brick building 115 feet long and 60 broad, consisting of the four walls and the roof, unplastered and not even white-washed, no sanctuary, not even a place for preserving the sacred vestments.”
Bruté worked on the building, but in those early days there were many more things to concentrate on. The completion of the building was left to Bruté’s successor, Bishop Hailandiére. He collected funds and used his own money to complete the church, adding the tower and a bell. He completed the interior of the building and added the basement chapel, which includes the place where All the Bishops of Vincennes are buried.
The Church has a long history. In the 1930’s, prior to the celebration of the centennial of the Diocese of Indianapolis (of which Vincennes was still a part) a great deal of work was done on the Cathedral and allied buildings. The “HABS” (Historic American Buildings Survey) made an effort to document the repairs and the history of the structure itself. They produced a number of pictures, one of which, shown here, shows the repairs that were being made to the steeple. Take a look at the full image here
In 1970 it was elevated to the status of a basilica. Today it remains an important part of the Diocese of Evansville. The adjoining Bruté Library contains some of the rarest books in America.
An aside… I found an article in a Logansport Newspaper from 1881. In it, the writer talks about his visit to Vincennes, and he mentions the church saying:
“The first church was founded by Francis Xavier and a building erected of logs, “daubed” with clay and prairie hay, and covered with A thatched roof. How our imagination ran back to 1747 to see walking down the aisle of this rude church a happy bride—happy as brides of to-day are—only a year later to be buried beneath this same aisle.”
One would think that the Jesuits would be interested in knowing that Saint Francis Xavier had founded a church in Indiana…
Other Happenings: It should also be pointed out that on this day in 1841 Father Edward Sorin and his companions set sail for the United States aboard the ship “Iowa”. Sorin, of course, founded the University of Notre Dame.