Standing as a Witness to Faith and Beauty for 150 Years
On September 8, 2019, the Diocese of Portland will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the dedication of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland, the mother church of the diocese. The cathedral was dedicated on September 8, 1869, by Bishop David Bacon, the first Bishop of Portland.
Several events are planned to celebrate the 150th anniversary. All will be held at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception located at 307 Congress Street in Portland.
► Sunday, March 24, 2019 at 2 p.m.
Monsignor Marc Caron, a priest of the Diocese of Portland, presented "Standing as a Witness to Faith and Beauty for 150 Years," the nature and architecture of the cathedral. Read a recap of the event by clicking here.
► Sunday, September 8, 2019 at 10 a.m.
A Mass commemorating the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary & the anniversary of the dedication of the cathedral will be celebrated by Bishop Robert Deeley.
► Saturday, December 7, 2019 at 4 p.m.
Bishop Robert Deeley will celebrate Mass commemorating the Immaculate Conception on the eve of the solemnity. The Mass will be followed by a reception in the cathedral's Guild Hall, a fundraiser for the St. Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen.
The Cathedral's Early History
Work on the cathedral actually began more than a decade before the celebratory day of dedication. Shortly after the diocese was established in 1855, Bishop Bacon began acquiring land for it. The adjoining chapel was completed in December 1856, but work on the cathedral itself was delayed because of a supply shortage during the Civil War.
After construction had begun, there was a devastating setback. With the walls mostly completed, the great fire of July 4, 1866, swept through Portland, destroying not only the new cathedral but the chapel, the parish school, a convent, and the bishop’s residence. Bishop Bacon would write in his diary, “Nothing of any value was saved.” It would lead the bishop to go on a fundraising tour through the northeastern United States and into Canada to raise the necessary money to rebuild.
The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was designed by Patrick Charles Keely of New York, one of the most prominent architects of Catholic churches in the United States at that time. Gothic Revival in style, it features vaulted ceilings, strong vertical lines, soaring spires, and lancet-shaped windows.
The cathedral’s organ, which also dates back to 1869, was built by the prestigious Henry Erben Company of New York. The organ has 3336 pipes.
Through the years, many bishops would leave their mark on the cathedral. In the early 1900’s, Bishop William O’Connell commissioned new, stained-glass windows. They depict events in the life of Christ and the Blessed Mother. Scenes include the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, the Nativity of the Lord, the Miracle of Cana, the death of St. Joseph, and the crucifixion, among others. The striking Immaculate Conception window was a gift from Bishop O'Connell to the church.
Those windows and additional ones commissioned by Bishop O’Connell’s successor, Bishop Louis Walsh, were designed by the much-respected Franz Mayer Studio in Munich, Germany. The company’s work was world renowned, appearing at the Vatican and in cathedrals and churches around the world. The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, however, is one of only a few churches to have both its clerestory and side windows made by the Mayer Studio.