The Third Cathedral
The True Voice on May 12, 1905, recorded the ground breaking for Saint Cecilia's Cathedral thus -- "The work of excavating for the new cathedral at Fortieth and Burt streets began this week. A large force of men are employed on the work which will require some time yet."
Little did anyone dream in 1905 that "the work which will require some time yet" would actually take over fifty years. Little did anyone dream in 1905 that seventy-five years later, Saint Cecilia's Cathedral would become a national landmark and become one of the most outstanding cathedrals in the United States.
~ Preface, Saint Cecilia's Cathedral, 1981
The year 1903 was a momentous one in the history of the parish of Saint Cecilia as well as for the people of the diocese. First of all the ten-year lease for Saint Cecilia's church on Hamilton street had expired in 1898, and now there was only a verbal agreement extending the lease. The property, sold by the Taggarts in 1896 to William Stein, put the rights of the parish on shakey grounds. When difficulty arose between the Church authorities and Mr. Stein, it was decided, by mutual agreement, to move the structure to church property on fortieth street.
It was also the year of 1903 that Bishop Scannell announced that the fortieth street location would become the site of the new cathedral. According to the Bishop, it was an excellent choice, for the hill on fortieth street was one of the highest points in the city and would give the proposed cathedral a commanding position overlooking the city. The majority of the clergy and people, however, did not favor the location because they said it was "too far out". The cathedral, which was to serve all, should be available to all, not "out in the country".
Nevertheless Bishop Scannell held out for the Fortieth and Burt street site; and, within a matter of months the plans for the new cathedral were taking shape.
Thomas Rogers Kimball, a local architect, sought the contract to design the building and a cathedral building board, consisting of the Bishop, Very Rev. A.M. Colaneri, Count John A. Creighton, and Messrs. F.A. Nash, T.J. Mahoney, Frank J. Burkley, T.C. Byrne, Francis Murphy and C.J. Smith, was formed.
Many hours were spent by the building committee and Mr. Kimball going over the detailed plans. Finally, in May 1904, the committee gave its stamp of approval. On Easter Monday, April 24, the general construction contract was awarded to William P. Deverell, and the contract for the stonework was given to the Albert Schall Company.
Buried in the local news columns of the True Voice of May 12, 1905, were these words: "The work of excavating for the new cathedral at Fortieth and Burt streets began this week. A large force of men are employed on the work which will require some time yet". No headline . . no groundbreaking ceremony . . . It just started!
The big hole in the ground was dug by men who, with shovels, relayed the dirt upward from wooden platform to wooden platform, until a depth of twenty feet below the surface was reached.
The footing under the towers, set fifty-four feet square at the bottom, were made of solid brick masonry. It was reported Mr. Kimball inspected every load of brick used and insisted that each brick be laid in one trowel of mortar and shoved into place after first being soaked in water. The main wall footings are eight feet wide at the ground level.
The first "monies" donated for the cathedral building were given by the parishioners of Saint Cecilia, who had harbored hopes of building a new church for themselves for several years. It was due principally to the untiring efforts and foresight of Father Harrington, Saint Cecilia's pastor, that a building fund had been initiated. Although the amount was meager to what would be needed for the cathedral, at least the project was begun.
Bishop Scannell, when he asked Catholics of the diocese for funds for construction of a cathedral wrote: "We cannot, indeed, think of producing here in Omaha anything like those great masterpieces (cathedrals of Antwerp, Cologne or Milan) . . . we can, however, I trust, build a cathedral that will be respectable." The building he envisioned was to be impressive in size, but even more lasting, the imprint of its beauty.
The True Voice, always behind the Bishop one hundred percent in this project, said on April 28, 1905: "...how many years will it take? The answer to this question will, of course, depend on the response that will be made to the appeal for funds. The building board has decided, and we think wisely, not to go into debt and to make no contract unless the money to pay for it be already on hand. This wise policy of the board means that there must be prompt and generous response on the part of the public to the appeal for funds, unless the work is to be suffered to drag on indefinitely . . . Since the Cathedral belongs to the whole diocese, the diocese should be interested in its erection and that none should consider themselves exempt from the obligation of contributing on the ground that they could not give large sums."
~Saint Cecilia's Cathedral, 1981