The First Cathedral
Bishop O'Gorman did eventually decide on Omaha City and took up residence on the southwest corner of Eighth and Harney streets. The little brick church standing across the street, as yet the only Catholic church in the entire territory of Nebraska, was consequently elevated to the dignity of a cathedral and called Saint Mary's Cathedral.
It has been recorded that the only changes made in the little church to grant it Cathedral status was to plaster the walls and build a small gallery over the entrance. The gallery served first as the choir loft with the choir organized by Vincent Burkley later that same year, 1859.
Cecilia Burkley, (Mrs. C. Burkhard) daughter of Vincent, at the age of fourteen, served as the first organist of the cathedral, although the cathedral had no organ. A melodeon was borrowed from T.C. Goodwill for the services, after which the melodeon was transported to the Episcopalian worship house to be used by them for their evening services.
The first choir consisted of Vincent Burkley, his wife, daughter Louise (Mrs. C.A. Leary), a niece, Lizzie Zahringer, and a nephew, Anthony Vall. Later additions to the choir were Mary Daley Callahan, Mr. and Mrs. Bremer, and Mrs. John A. (Emma Wareham) Creighton.
On June 25, 1859 the unpretentious little cathedral served as the site for the first ordination in Nebraska. Father William Kelly, "The Patriarch Priest of Nebraska," was ordained before a full house, and upon his ordination, was assigned pastor of the Cathedral.
The first cathedral, with additions of choir loft and wing added a few years later for school students. Its usefulness was limited. It was not uncommon to have persons kneeling outside the front door being unable to gain admission into the church.
It is interesting to note that the Catholic Directory of 1864 gives the title of Saint Philomena to the tiny church. Lack of records, however, makes it impossible to determine exactly when the new title was assigned to the small structure. Records do show that in 1864 the Bishop and his priests made plans to build a new cathedral.
~ Saint Cecilia Cathedral, 1981