I recently attended Mass and the Open House this past weekend at The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond, Virginia. It may be the most beautiful church in The Old Dominion, and serves as the seat for the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond. The cornerstone to the church was laid on June 4, 1903, as well as a second stone hewn from the Garden of Gethsemene on the Sacred Mount of Olives, which is now found in the baptistry.
The Cathedral Consecration was held on November 29, 1906 and was celebrated by hundreds of priests, and thousands of people that stretched for four city blocks in the City of Richmond. The Cathedral was financed by a Thomas Fortune Ryan, who grew up in Nelson County Virginia. Mr. Ryan went as a young man to New York City and started a successful career that led to him being one of the ten wealthiest men in America by gaining his wealth and prestige through the businesses of railroads, streetcars, subways, insurance, tobacco, and diamonds. Mr. Ryan gave $250,000 for the construction of the building and his wife, Ida Barry Ryan, gave another $250,000, for the interior needs of the Cathedral.
Thomas Fortune Ryan, never forgot his Virginia roots, and made more investments in The Commonwealth. He bought a 5,000 acre estate in Nelson County called Oak Ridge and built a large home that had many amenities including its own railroad station. Since there was no Catholic Churches in the county at that time, he built his own chapel and invited county residents and a priest to a Sunday Mass, that eventually became a church in Lovingston, Virginia–now St. Mary’s parish. The Oak Ridge estate is enjoyed by the public now for gatherings and celebrations including the Annual Nelson County Festival.
It was very inspirational for me to experience Mass in this great Cathedral with its massive size, beautiful stained glass, powerful organ, and an angelic chorus. The church’s interior is designed as a Roman cross, and is a marvel to see with combinations of wood and marble that are very ornate. The organ is very large and has 3,916 pipes and takes up a large part of the balcony at the rear of the church.
The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart is in the middle of the City of Richmond and next to the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University and has a very diverse community of people worshiping locally and from around the state. The parish is very active with ministries for youth, education, social justice, and the poor and disabled. The parish is twinned with helping a parish in Carrisade, Haiti where they have helped build a church, a school, a corn mill, two water wells, and a cafeteria. See video below of Mass in Haiti:
The Cathedral also hosts a number of concerts including performances by The Richmond Symphony. The Crypt in the church now houses The Museum of Virginia Catholic History which is available for tours with reservations. The Cathedral has recently gone through extensive renovations and restorations and is still in need of financial help. If you can help the Cathedral with its ministries or building funds it would be greatly appreciated by many throughout the Diocese of Richmond. The Diocese of Richmond recently updated their website and it is a great resource of information about the diocese and the many organizations and parishes associated with its works and services. (Check out the links below)
Just outside the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart is a statue called “Rachel Weeping” that was put in place 25 years ago by Bishop Walter Sullivan in memory of the martyrs of The Holocost and to stand in solidarity with the Jewish community. There will be a commemoration of the 25th anniversary of this statue with Bishop of Richmond Francis DiLorenzo, Bishop Emeritus Walter Sullivan, and Dr. Jack Spiro the Distinguished Chair in Judaic Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University on April 22, 2012 at 2pm.
Thanks to the staff and parishioners at The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart for hosting a wonderful Open House, and I encourage anyone to check out this beautiful church and vibrant parish community.