A packed Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford is seen in this photo, taken with a fisheye lens during the entrance procession at the 50th anniversary Mass on May 20, from a catwalk located almost 100 feet above the floor of the nave. Highlight lights on a partial wall frame the congregation, sanctuary and stained-glass windows, and the cathedral’s ceiling is visible at the top of the photo. See photo gallery at right. (Photo by Bob Mullen/The Catholic Photographer)
HARTFORD – In what Archbishop Henry J. Mansell said was "a historic event in the history of the Archdiocese of Hartford," nearly 2,000 laypeople and clergy gathered inside the Cathedral of St. Joseph May 20 for a Mass and reception marking the 50th anniversary of its consecration. Rising from the ashes of the original Gothic brownstone cathedral that was built in 1892 and destroyed by fire in 1956, the sleek limestone cathedral has been the mother church of the archdiocese since it was dedicated on May 23, 1962.
Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson of the Knights of Columbus, and his wife Dorian were seated in the front pew and served as gift bearers.
In his homily, Archbishop Mansell thanked Mr. Anderson and the Knights for helping to make possible the new altar that was consecrated April 28 in honor of the Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney (1852-1890), a priest of the then-Diocese of Hartford and the founder of the Knights. The archbishop said he hopes that one day Father McGivney will be proclaimed a saint and that his relics can be added to the reliquary beneath the new altar.
The new permanent altar is one of many ambitious improvements that Archbishop Mansell announced at the Mass. A new sound system has been recently installed, making it easy for the Office of Radio and Television to stream events over the airways. In fact, the ORTV recorded the Mass for later broadcast and showed it on two JumboTrons set up in the transepts.
There will also be a new permanent altar in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in the east transept, the archbishop announced. The old altar will be removed and used for events such as the Catholic Youth Spectacular, he said.
Also, the baptistery that has been in the lower cathedral since 1973 will be moved upstairs. Speaking with the Transcript at a reception in the lower cathedral after the Mass, Archbishop Mansell said, "I’ve used it for baptisms here, but people generally don’t even see it. It’s beautiful. It should be seen."
Because it is heavy, the precise spot for it upstairs has not been determined, he said.
An elevator will be installed near the exits on the west side of the cathedral, he said in his homily, making it easier to enter the cathedral.
"And there will be – thank God – 16 restrooms," he announced, inviting a few chuckles.
The lower cathedral will be transformed into a reception area with most of the pews removed, he said. Receptions follow major events such as the Rite of Election, the Wedding Anniversary Mass, the St. Joseph Medal award ceremony and others. "There are big crowds," he said. "Who would have thought we’d have that many people 50 years ago?"
The archbishop called attention to the statue of Saint Joseph on the frieze by Tommaso Peccini on the exterior above the front entrance, showing the archdiocese’s patron saint extending his arms in welcome to all people.
"On either side, you see people from all sorts of backgrounds, representing the whole world. I like to think every time I look at that, as I did today, of how prophetic that was. The archdiocese embraces people from all across the world," he said.
He also mentioned some of the many other features of the cathedral, including the bronze doors sculpted by Enzo Assenza that represent the Church triumphant, the Church militant and the Church suffering; the ceramic mural in the apse that is reported to be the largest in the world; and the 67-foot-high stained-glass windows by Jean Barillet of Paris that illustrate the life of Christ.
He cited the first epistle of Peter, chapter 2, which says that Christ is the cornerstone and we are people chosen to proclaim God’s marvelous deeds. "I thank you for continuing to proclaim God’s marvelous deeds. I thank you for continuing to be God’s marvelous deeds," he said.
In his remarks at the end of the Mass, he said, "May the cathedral continue to thrive not only for 50 more years but hundreds of years, for centuries, to be truly a great church."
As he concluded speaking, the archbishop was surprised by thunderous and sustained applause from an obviously happy congregation.
Rody Bazzano, assistant at the Archbishop O’Brien Library in Bloomfield, said he recalls seeing the fire that destroyed the old cathedral on Dec. 31, 1956, and he also remembers the dedication of the new cathedral in 1962. He said he was impressed with Archbishop Mansell’s homily, as well as with the beautiful music.
The Sacred Sounds Concert Series music performed during the Mass included works by Charpentier, Bach, Gigout, Saint-Saëns, Mozart and other composers. Hartford-based soprano Louise Fauteux sang "Ave Maria," composed by Johann Sebastian Bach and arranged by Charles Gounod. Dr. Jeffrey Douma and Bryan L. Zaros led the Cathedral Choir and the Archdiocesan Choir, and Dr. Ezequiel Menéndez, organist and director of music, led the Cathedral Brass Quintet.
Judith Bruno Grimm, a parishioner at Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, said she was a young woman when she attended the dedication in 1962. Her father was on Gov. John Dempsey’s staff and got tickets to the event. "I was the oldest daughter, so I got the ticket," she said. It was a full house then, but she believes there were even more at this anniversary event.
Michael C. Culhane, executive director of the Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference, was present as one of about 20 Knights and Dames of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
He said, "I love the cathedral and have been coming for years and years. I was in eighth grade at St. Margaret’s in Waterbury in 1962 when this cathedral was dedicated."
He said he also remembers when the old cathedral burned. "I think Archbishop Mansell made [today’s celebration] very personal, and it was great to have a packed house. Everybody was very joyful and happy."
In addition to the Order of Malta and a color guard of the Knights of Columbus, there were honor guards from the Knights and Ladies of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and the Knights of Peter Claver, Inc., and Ladies Auxiliary.
Principal concelebrants were Archbishop Emeritus Daniel A. Cronin; Auxiliary Bishop Christie A. Macaluso, who was rector of the cathedral from 1991-97; Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Peter A. Rosazza; Father Lawrence R. Bock, vicar for the Hartford Vicariate; Msgr. James G. Coleman, vicar for the Waterbury Vicariate; Msgr. John P. Conte, vicar for the New Haven Vicariate; Msgr. David Q. Liptak, executive editor of The Catholic Transcript; and Msgr. John J. McCarthy, chancellor and rector since 2005.
Also, Msgr. Daniel J. Plocharczyk, rector from 1997-2003; Msgr. Gerard G. Schmitz, vicar for priests; Father Daniel Akho, chaplain for the Karen community at the cathedral; Father David J. Baranowski, parochial vicar for the cathedral from 1973-79; Father John W. McHugh, parochial vicar from 1983-92; Father John P. Melnick, parochial vicar from 2003-08; and Father Dennis J. Vincenzo, parochial vicar from 1992-2000.
Father Jeffrey V. Romans, assistant chancellor and secretary to the archbishop, was master of ceremonies; and Father Michael J. Dolan, Father José A. Mercado and Father Marcin P. Pluciennik served as assistant masters of ceremonies.
Readers were Marilyn B. Dumas and George Ducharme, and the prayers of the faithful were delivered by Sister of Mercy Dolores Anne Liptak, whose book Hartford’s Catholic Legacy: Leadership was available for purchase at the reception, along with Joseph W. Duffy’s Hartford’s Catholic Legacy: Parishes and their co-authored history of the archdiocese, Lift High the Cross.