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St Raphael's Cathedral

Re-dedication of St. Raphael's Cathedral (3/10/55)

Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID: WHi-8707

St. Raphael's Cathedral

The first Catholic Mass in Madison was celebrated in the Capitol by a visiting missionary from the Diocese of Detroit, Reverend Martin Kundig, on August 15, 1842. At the time there were only ten Catholic families in the area. The location was not unusual; in the city’s early days, nearly every denomination used the Capitol for services. After Mass, as Governor James Duane Doty guided the priest on a tour of the city, he “proudly showed a choice piece of property he had acquired for a pretentious new house. As they both admired the beautiful spot on the high point of the isthmus, Governor Doty turned to Father Kundig and said, ‘I will give you these two lots and I will interest myself to get some others from a neighboring lady.’” Doty’s property was officially transferred to the Diocese on November 15, 1842.

Six years later the wood-frame St. Raphael's Church was erected at 222 West Main Street. Two-thirds of the founding parishioners were Irish, and one-third German and Austrian. The first resident pastor, Reverend David Whitehead, lived in a house near the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad. Because of rapid growth, parishioners added a brick section within a year.

In April 1854, construction on the stone St. Raphael’s that still stands a century and a half later began. On May 29 Bishop Henni came to town to lay the cornerstone. The church was not completed until 1863, and the distinctive spire that graces today’s cathedral was not added until 1881, designed by Madison architect Stephen Vaughn Shipman.

Meanwhile, the German members of St. Raphael’s sought to practice their faith in their own language. On September 8, 1856, Bishop Henni gave them permission to build their own church and school. On July 12, 1857, they dedicated the brick Holy Redeemer Church at 120 West Johnson Street. Of Holy Redeemer's founding families, nineteen were from Bavaria, seven from Wurtemberg, six from Baden, nine from Switzerland, and nine from the Rhine provinces.

In 1888, St. Raphael's split again. Two hundred fifty Irish families formed St. Patrick's parish at 404 East Main Street. The church building was completed the following year. In its first 96 years, St. Patrick’s had only three pastors – Patrick B. Knox, Albert V. Grace, and Francis E. Doherty.

Mark Gajewski