From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.
EDITOR'S NOTE: On Dec. 30, 1961, fire wrote the final chapter in the history of a Leavenworth landmark -- the Church of the Immaculate Conception -- known to the city's Roman Catholics at "the Old Cathedral." A new church occupies the site today, but parishioners remember the former one fondly. When it was completed a century ago and was the Cathedral church of the diocese, the immense church was the grandest west of the Mississippi. It was consecrated exactly 100 years ago today, and the dedicatory services that day were attended with solemn and colorful ceremonies.
The Leavenworth Cathedral was built under the direction of Bishop John B. Miege and his main assistant was Bishop John B. Lamy of the Santa Fe, N. M., See. The contractor was John McGonigle, one of the most prominent Catholic laymen ever to reside in Leavenworth.
McGonigle came here from Maryland and was working on local buildings at the outbreak of the Civil War. He joined up and became a lieutenant in the 11th Kansas Cavalry. Following the war he returned to Leavenworth and soon was recognized as one of the largest contractors in the west. He constructed the courthouse at Platte City, Mo., the old Union station in Kansas City, Mo., part of the statehouse in Topeka, the post office at St. Joseph, Mo., and a number of depots in the larger cities in the west.
In the spring of 1864, Bishop Miege began excavations for the Cathedral of Leavenworth. Four years later it was completed--and paid for.
The Cathedral at 5th and Kiowa was a massive brick edifice of great architectural beauty. Its size was about 100 feet front and 200 feet long. It was truly a monument to Bishop Miege's zeal and confidence in the future growth of Kansas.
Following is the account of the consecration. The story appeared in The Leavenworth Times the day following the event.
Thirty years ago Macaulay wrote of the Catholic Church, "She may still exist in undimished[sic] vigor, when some traveler from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's."
Yesterday the Catholic Church of this city consecrated another enduring monument to its greatness. The ceremonies took place as published in our columns. On the arrival of the distinguished clergy in the Cathedral, the church was crowded to its utmost capacity, though the number decreased before the service was over.
As the profession moved slowly in the orchestra, composed of nineteen performers from the Fort band commenced a magnificent overture, composed expressly for the occasion by the leader, Captain Joseph Freising. After the overture was concluded the solemn Pontifical Mass commenced, during which the sermon by Rather[sic] Ryan was delivered.
This sermon lasted over an hour, and was delivered in an eloquent manner. His remarks were devoted to an explanation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, advancing many novel ideas in beautiful language. After the sermon was over the ceremonies and the Mass were soon concluded, thus ending the morning service.
This was the order of exercises in brief. To be more explicit we will state that outside ceremonies, the consecration of the exterior, commenced shortly after 8 o'clock and continued till 9 o'clock. The consecration was conducted by Archbishop Kenrick of St. Louis, assisted by four bishops and numerous clergy.
At 9 o'clock the grand procession entered the Church, where Pontifical High Mass was celebrated. The various offices were filled as follows:
Celebrant of the High Mass--Bishop Miege
Deacon--Rev. Father Linnenkamp
Sub-Deacon--Rev. Mr. Hayden
Assistant Priest--Rev. Father Kubis
Deacons of Honor--Rev. Fathers Kemmer and Hartig.
Master of Ceremonies--Rev. Father Neuchabaum
The celebration of Mass and the Sermon occupied from 11 o'clock till after 2 o'clock -- a very unpleasant three hours, on account of the Cathedral being so cold. It was feared, after the morning's service, that many would be deterred from coming in the evening on account of the cold, but the result proved otherwise.
Contrary to the general expectation the Cathedral was well filled at the time appointed for Vespers. The service was opened with selections from "Ernani" by the Orchestra which were rendered in splendid style. After the overture the Vesper Service was sung by a choir of 40 children, belonging to the girls and boys Sodalities, under the leadership of Reverend Father Laigneil. Arch Bishop Kenrick of St. Louis officiated at Vespers, assisted by Reverend Fathers Linnenkamp and Kubis and Reverend Mr. Hayden. After Vespers, Bishop Hennessey, of Dubuque, occupied the pulpit and delivered a forcible sermon on the "Head of the Church" which was well received, though the severe cold rendered the audience restless and noisy. During the sermon the entire altar was lit up, the starjets giving an additional beauty to the scene. After the sermon was ended the choir of adults sand "O Gloriosa Domina"; "O Salutaris" and "Tantum Ergo." The evening's service being concluded with a sacred chant, "Hail Mary, Virgin Pure" by the Sodality choirs, the clergy repaired to the Bishop's residence, where they supped, and the audience quietly dispersed.
Thus ended the consecration of the finest Cathedral west of St. Louis. It will stand for ages a monument of the business ability of Bishop Miege, and a testimony of the energy of the Catholic Church. Now that the Cathedral is consecrated it may not be amiss to give credit to some of the auxiliaries to the clergy in their work of dedication.
The fine music was a combination of the organs, the Fort Band and Choir, Prof. Tack presided at the organ and brought out its musical powers with considerable effect. The Fort Band consisted of 19 performers all under the charge of Capt. Joseph Freising, who also acted a Impressario to both vocal and instrumental performance. The choir consisted of Miss Ella Mills, principal soprano, assisted by Mrs. McGonigle, Mrs. Staiger, Mrs. McGinniss, Mrs. Harrington and Mrs. Bolenus, sopranos; Miss Tack and Miss Kate Mason, altos; Messrs. Farrell, Rohan, and Sayer, bass; Messrs. Seckler, Shelley, Laignell, and Biringer, tenors, and Mr. Buchele, alto. Miss Mills in her soprano parts did remarkably well and we predict for her great success as a vocalist. In fact all the ladies did well. Mrs. Staiger, Mrs. McGonigle, and others attracted attention by their accurate execution. The gentlemen's parts were well supported. Taken altogether we have never had in Leavenworth a more successful combination of vocal and instrumental music; and we hope to see the same performers on some future occasion.
After describing the scenes at the consecration, it may not be amiss to mention those who have been connected with its building. The design for the building was made by the late L. L. Long, Architect, who was associated with J. A. McGonigle at the time. Mr. Long had a splendid reputation in Baltimore, his former home, where h built many fine churches and buildings, and though he did not live to see this finished, yet it remains as a proof of his taste as an architect. J. A. McGonigle, Esq., of this city was Superintendent of the building and contractor for the carpenter work. The plastering was done by Kennedy of St. Louis. The painting, with the exception of the fresco, was the work of John Reynolds of Leavenworth. The slating was done by Nicholas White of St. Louis. The cornicing and tin work was the contract of J. W. Crancer, of this city. The gas fixtures were put in by H. J. Miller & Co., of Leavenworth.
We have now given credit to the various mechanics engaged in the erection of this fine church. Time and space will admit of no further comment. The building speaks for itself. It is an ornament to the city and the pride of the Catholics who have contributed to its erection.