Tag Archives: Cathedral of St. Paul

‘I thought, I could do that’

January 26, 2015


A full 45 minutes before the Jan. 22 Prayer Service for Life was to begin at the Cathedral of St. Paul, a white-haired woman had already garnered one of the best seats in the house.

Madonna ArelPews in the front half of the big church were being reserved for the thousands of young people who would be attending, so Madonna Arel prayed in the first pew after the break, right on the center aisle. It’s the perfect place to see the altar and to take in both the processional and recessional when dignitaries take part — in the case of the annual pro-life prayer service, that would be five bishops from dioceses around Minnesota.

I went up to talk with her after she’d sat back.

Although this was the 41st year for the Jan. 22 prayer service for life, Madonna told me this was only the fourth year she’d been coming.

“I was working,” she said. “Before I retired I was a corporate switchboard operator for Excel Energy. You wouldn’t believe the calls I took,” she added with a roll of the eyes.

Along with getting good quotes for my story about the prayer service, I got a little bit of an education about what it means to be pro-life. Madonna, you see, doesn’t just say she’s pro-life, she acts on her pro-life stance. It’s nothing big, really. But it’s what she can do.

“Some one asked me to write to women who were on a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat,” she told me, “and I thought, I could do that.”

Rachel’s Vineyard is a ministry of healing for those who have had an abortion.

“I’ve written to three women. I just let them know I’m praying for them,” Madonna said. “I even got to meet one of them. She just said, ‘Thank you for praying for me,’ because going on the retreat is really a healing process.”

She went on, “Life is so important. I don’t know what people go through who had an abortion, but I see the healing and the difference it makes by going on those retreats.”

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Crashed Ice construction

February 7, 2014


The track is being constructed. Follow along with photos of the construction on The Catholic Spirit’s Facebook page. The Crashed Ice competition will take place February 22 at the Cathedral of St. Paul, National Shrine of the Apostle Paul.


Photo by Michael Pytleski / The Catholic Spirit

Photo by Michael Pytleski / The Catholic Spirit

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Cathedral hospitality warms cold Crashed Ice fans

January 14, 2012


Robin and Tim Zima explore the Cathedral of St. Paul during a break from watching the Crashed Ice event Jan. 13. (Photo by Dianne Towalski)

The competition is under way for the Red Bull Crashed Ice World Championship outside the Cathedral of St. Paul. Spectators around the icy track are enduring cold temperatures to watch the extreme sport. But when they need a break to warm up, Cathedral staff and volunteers are right inside the doors to welcome them.

A Crashed Ice competitor slides down from the starting gate during time trials Jan. 12. (Photo by Dianne Towalski)

They greeted visitors Friday afternoon and invited them to walk around and explore the warmth of the Cathedral.

“I’ve seen this church so many times and never knew you could just walk in and look around,” said Robin Zima of Mound as she explored the church. She and her husband, Tim, planned to visit the Cathedral while they were in town for the Red Bull event. They even did research about it online the night before.

“I’ve never been to a church this nice. It really is breathtaking, just stunning, I can’t believe it,” Tim Zima said.

Chris Judd, a student at McNally Smith College of Music, grew up in Virginia and heard stories about the Cathedral from his parents, who lived in St. Paul 30 years ago.

“They said this is probably one of the most magnificent pieces of architecture they’ve ever been in, “ he said. “They always encouraged me to come here, but I didn’t until today. Something just said, ‘Come on in.’ It’s really peaceful here, it’s really cool,” Judd said.

The Cathedral is open to visitors today from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., as it has been throughout the event. There is a welcoming table in the narthex offering self-guided tour brochures. Visitors can purchase Cathedral souvenirs, including books, posters, sweatshirts and winter hats.

Cathedral liturgies and parish activities were moved to the St. Vincent de Paul campus at 651 Virginia St. in St. Paul Jan. 12-14.

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Thrills & chills at Cathedral of St. Paul

January 13, 2012


Red Bull Ice Crashers event that skirts the Cathedral of St. Paul — skaters actually go down a ramp atop the cathedral steps —  are bringing cold-weather sports fans out to see the excitement of this daredevil extreme sport — and bringing folks into the  cathedral itself. They’re likely coming to warm up first — it was 13 degrees out there when these photos were taken early Friday afternoon — but plenty of people are looking around as they do at this architectural beauty. Below, those steeples in the distance are the Church of the Assumption downtown. This photo was taken from the front doors of the cathedral. You can read more about the Red Bull Crashed Ice event here.

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Greetings from sunny Minnesota — FYI: It won’t last

January 11, 2012

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For several weeks now on my drive in to work I’ve been seeing this view of the just-risen sun hitting the facade of the Cathedral of St. Paul. I finally stopped, grabbed my camera and tried to save the scene, because after living in Minnesota for 28+ years I know this respite from winter weather isn’t going to continue. Snow forecast in the next 24 hours.

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Update: UFO over the Cathedral of St. Paul?

July 25, 2011

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Richard from Eden Prairie writes:

It is a Zepplin and only one of two passenger airships in the world.
There was an article about it, in the Eden Prairie News, this past week.

Here is a link to it.


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Unidentified flying object over the Cathedral of St. Paul?

July 18, 2011


At least it was unidentified until I saw the ad on the side. But it’s not everyday a dirigible sachet’s around the copper dome so I snapped a picture with my droid.

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Stories you shouldn’t miss

July 6, 2011


Here’s a sneak preview of some of the stories you can read this week in the print edition of The Catholic Spirit and online at TheCatholicSpirit.com.

• “Get a good read — on what’s happening at local Catholic bookstores.” Our Page 1 story gives a snapshot of the joys and challenges of operating independent Catholic bookstores in the age of Amazon and BN.com. Don’t overlook the summer reading list suggested by the booksellers.

• Two articles have a Catholic Charities focus. Agency CEO Tim Marx writes about how the current Minnesota state government shutdown is a wake-up call to mend our civic culture. And, staff writer/photographer Dave Hrbacek spent time with St. Paul Homeless Connect — a one-day event that offers important services and resources in one location for people in need. Read about one of the event’s volunteers who knows personally the challenges faced by the homeless.

• This week’s “Outdoors” column by Dave Hrbacek features a priest who recently led a fishing retreat as an opportunity for men to pray and deepen their spirituality while spending time on the lake.

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Hunting for Masqueray

July 28, 2010


Cathedral of St. Paul

Next year we’ll be celebrating Emmanuel Louis Masqueray‘s 150th birthday — at least, we should be.

He’s responsible for some seriously notable midwest ecclesiastical architecture. The man designed the Cathedral of St. Paul; the Basilica of St. Mary; St. Louis King of France; the Thomas Aquinas Chapel at the University of St. Thomas and the university’s Ireland Hall; Keane Hall at Loras College in Dubuque, IA; Holy Redeemer in Marshall, MN; St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Sioux Falls, SD;  and Immaculate Conception in Wichita, Kan., — just to name a few.

Yet, he’s, at best, a footnote in the tomes of American architects.

And I cannot figure out why.

I’m pursuing a master’s degree in Art History from the aforementioned University of St. Thomas, and my thesis focuses on Archbishop John Ireland‘s patronage of the Cathedral and the Basilica. This includes the choice of Masqueray as the architect and his Ecole des Beaux Arts-influenced design.

But digging stuff up on the man is proving frustrating. Apparently, Masqueray and Ireland were in personal contact almost daily, so little written communication between the men existed. And I’ve heard rumors that there once WAS an archive of Masqueray’s papers held by the Catholic Historical Society of St. Paul, but they have mysteriously disappeared.

To  make matters worse, efforts to locate Eric Hansen, the author of The Cathedral of St. Paul: An Architectural Biography, which  the Cathedral published in 1990, have also failed (trust me, the Cathedral’s tried). Hansen may be the only one who can give me  more insight into an intriguing fact he added to the first page in his book: That Archbishop Ireland kept scrapbooks with ideas for a Cathedral long  before he actually commissioned it.

FASCINATING! Now, where the heck are they?

They’re NOT in the Cathedral archives, or the archdiocesan archives — at least not obviously. I spent an hour last week going through five boxes absolutely crammed with Ireland’s scrapbooks. He kept newspaper clippings on every topic of importance to him — the Catholic church in America, the temperance movement, the current pope, the church in the Philippines, the  plight of Irish immigrants — and they’re absolutely incredible. With each box I opened and each book I wedged out, I deeply hoped I would open the pages to a clipped photo of an old French church or the Baltimore Cathedral. And with each turn of the page I grew more and more disappointed.

I know research shouldn’t be easy, but dead-ends are getting a bit old.

Somewhere out there, somebody has seen these scrapbooks, and someone else knows where Masqueray’s letters are. I’m counting on Providence to make our paths cross.

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Making something good even better

June 30, 2010


Bancel LaFarge designed this window of St. Clare in the Cathedral of St. Paul using the methods he learned from his father, famous East Coast artist John LaFarge. Photo by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Bancel LaFarge designed this window of St. Clare in the Cathedral of St. Paul using the methods he learned from his father, famous East Coast artist John LaFarge. Photo by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

East Coast churches have dazzling stained glass, but so does our Cathedral of St. Paul

They looked like fused gobs of chunky carnival candy, so brilliantly hued that, for a moment, I wanted to pry out a piece and pop it in my mouth.

Good thing I didn’t: It was glass.

In June I spent a week poking around some of America’s most magnificent Victorian homes in Newport, R.I.

I went hoping to deepen my knowledge about the era’s architecture (which I did), but my attention easily strayed from cornices and balustrades to the stained glass windows decorating a handful of the homes and churches I visited.

This was not ordinary stained glass. Instead of employing traditional methods, these were among the first “opalescent” glass windows. Previously, artists painted colored windows with dark paint to add detail or filter light within the glass. Opalescent glass is made containing gradations of density and color, diminishing the need for paint. The result is glass that appears to have its own texture, movement and, well, life, in contrast to its rather stoic predecessor.

Many of the windows I saw also had “gems” fused with the panes — the previously mentioned dollops, sometimes smooth, sometimes harshly faceted, that captured my eye.

Later, I discovered that this glass fathered the treasures in — literally — my own St. Paul backyard.

An American artist

The man credited for this design revolution was John LaFarge (1835-1910), a New York City-born artist who earned his chops while studying with painter William Morris Hunt in Newport.

LaFarge’s earliest work graces several of the city’s landmarks, and later pieces show up in grand homes and small churches throughout New England.

Both a painter and artist, LaFarge, a Catholic, received his big break when he offered to design the interior of Boston’s Episcopalian Trinity Church, which was designed by architect Henry Hobson Richardson. The 1877 structure is credited — inside and out — for inspiring a truly “American” aesthetic at a time when the centennial-celebrating nation was seeking to identify who, exactly, it was.

For LaFarge, the rest was history. His glass technique was soon adopted by Louis Comfort Tiffany (famous for his windows and lamps), who was better able to market the stuff than LaFarge (who, unfortunately, earned a reputation for not finishing work in a timely manner and for digging himself into debt).

Some of LaFarge’s best work is in churches, and radiant images of angels, saints and biblical figures have long drawn his admirers — both religious and secular — into houses of God, if only for a moment.

Connection to local treasure

As I examined the particularities of LaFarge’s glass design, I noticed some striking similarities to some familiar Twin Cities windows — the backs of which I can see from my desk at The Catholic Spirit.

The way the figures’ clothing folded and draped over their heads and arms, the gradation of light, the thoughtful expressions — they reminded me of the series of saint windows in the Cathedral of St. Paul’s Shrine of Nations.

Sure enough. Well, almost.

It was not John LaFarge who designed the 12 windows that dramatically light the Cathedral’s chevet, but rather his son, Bancel.

When the windows were created in 1927-28, the senior LaFarge had passed away, and Bancel had achieved success in his own right. His Cathedral commission was undoubtedly aided by the fact that a childhood friend in Newport — a butler’s son named Austin Dowling — was currently archbishop of St. Paul.

Six shrines comprise the Shrine of Nations to honor six ethnic groups whose immigrants were the city’s earliest Catholics. Each shrine has two Bancel LaFarge windows, each depicting a saint. (His initials “BLaF” adorn a few of them.)

My favorite is St. Clare of Assisi in the Italian chapel. As in her typical depictions, she holds a ciborium containing the Eucharist. Legend holds that she brought the Eucharist to her convent’s gates when it was threatened by looters, and the whole town was spared. She’s also usually shown garbed in brown robes typical of a Franciscan.

But not in Bancel’s mind.

Her veil is green, her mantle is orange, and her gown is awash in purples and greens. Framed by a rose-hued halo, her face bears a pensive expression as she looks over her shoulder.

A visual, spiritual treat

Nearby, her male counterpart, St. Francis, also wears colorful robes as he gazes at the sun and moon, evoking the way he imagined all creation — including “brother Sun and sister Moon” — praising God.

“Perhaps the artist wished to evoke the beauty of lives lived in perfect dependence on and submission to God,” author Dia Boyle writes in “Stone and Glass: The Meaning of the Cathedral of St. Paul,” published in 2008.

I don’t know what Bancel was thinking when he cast aside the traditional for the unexpected. But I suspect, as Boyle does, that it was done in devotion. He was  a devout Catholic who invested in Catholic organizations, including a three-year stint as president of the Liturgical Arts Society of America.

Bancel also designed the windows for the Cathedral’s Sacred Heart chapel, as well as the murals and windows for St. Mary’s Chapel at the St. Paul Seminary.

Like John LaFarge, Bancel had the ability to present long-depicted themes in surprising ways, casting an even greater beauty in a place where it was already to be found. His glass lacks the signature candy-like medallions of his father’s work, but it’s just as delicious to the mind and eye.

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