By Pete Werner
Special to The Message
The past 20 years in the history of the Catholic Church in this area has seen many diocesan events take place at St. Benedict Cathedral. Any cathedral is more than just a welcoming place to have events. A cathedral must deepen the spiritual life for those who gather there and it is that impact that is the focus of this article.
If we look at the impact of cathedrals here in Southwest Indiana, the most striking historical experience would most likely be the “Old Cathedral” of St. Francis Xavier in Vincennes. The Diocese of Vincennes included most of the old Northwest Territory and eventually the entire state of Indiana. The Cathedral along the Wabash was the center of the Catholic Church for generations of Hoosiers.
Even today, countless visitors continue to marvel at the simple but elegant Old Cathedral and continue to be in awe of the first four bishops buried in the crypt, one of whom is on the road to sainthood. We are certainly blessed to have such deep roots of our Catholic Church planted here in our Diocese. Bishop Charles Thompson recalls with humility his experience when asked to become the Bishop of Evansville while on his way to Indianapolis. He immediately headed to Vincennes to pray in that crypt alongside the tombs of the founding Bishops. He prayed that God would make him a worthy bishop for this Diocese.
So now our Diocese is on about cathedral number four, St. Benedict Cathedral. That designation came from Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger and the cathedral was dedicated on May 11, 1999. Our present cathedral is the largest physical structure the diocese has ever had as a cathedral as well as being the home of a large urban parish. On one level, the life of that parish is typical of most other parishes, large and small. Catholic education continues in its school, parish outreach continues in the St. Vincent DePaul ministry, CAJE involvement touches the community at large, and the involvement of various lay ministries is extensive. The sacraments are celebrated and the Eucharist is the source and summit of parish life.
The celebration of the sacraments is central to what it means to be the People of God here in the Diocese of Evansville. Even though the cathedral and parish have over the years hosted countless diocesan events, those events draw their life from the sacraments. Because of the size and resources of the cathedral parish, the diocese has been able to celebrate those sacraments as never before. This is particularly true of the Sacrament of Holy Orders and the Chrism Mass.
The celebrations over the last twenty years of Holy Orders and the Chrism Mass have grown in themselves and in the prayer life of our diocese. To celebrate in prayer and song and ritual with the bishop and presbyters and people from nearly every parish in the diocese has been a new and welcome experience. Those celebrations have strengthened our life as a diocese and our understanding of the Church that goes beyond the parish. The diocese has always celebrated these sacraments with joy and prayer; the difference now is that more and more priests and people could be involved in the oneness of the Eucharist. Something as simple as a large pipe organ and choir space has greatly enhanced Diocesan events. Hopefully, after many generations have celebrated the Eucharist as a diocese, St. Benedict Cathedral will take its place in the hearts of the people as the sacred space from which we draw our strength.
Now that cathedral is being rededicated after nearly a year of extensive remodeling. That work was done so that we, as a diocese, might gather in prayer and song and ritual for the next one hundred years. We are renewed by the beauty of that renovation that weaves together the old and new. The statues of Mary and Joseph saved from closed parishes in Cleveland; the statue of the Sacred Heart restored to its former place after being removed for some 50 years; the parish Mission cross now permanently above the altar; the tabernacle from the original Poor Clares Monastery; and the cathedra, chair of the bishop, rescued first from Assumption Cathedral and then from Holy Trinity Cathedral.
That’s the way it has always been, starting with the faith handed down from Abraham to us today: the new building on the old. That same faith will be passed on from generation to generation, from the old to the new. St. Benedict Cathedral now becomes the Ark of our Covenant through the Eucharistic celebrations that give life to the Church present here in the Diocese of Evansville. May we be worthy Stewards of that faith. May we look at our cathedral as more than a beautiful and prayerful gathering space. May the sharing of the bread and wine here in this place help to make us one in the Body of Christ.
Pete and his family are members of St. Benedict Cathedral.