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History of the Cathedral

Cheyenne's Cathedral of St. Mary is an enduring symbol for Wyoming Catholics.

Just forty years after the railroad arrived and Cheyenne was established with no promise of ever being anything more than a temporary camp, construction of today's Cathedral was begun in 1906. Bishop James J. Keane and Reverend James A. Duffy worked to acquire the ideal site and necessary funds to begin construction.

According to contemporary accounts, on Sunday July 7, 1907, 5,000 people thronged to the solemn laying of the cornerstone of the Cathedral by Bishop Richard Scannell of Omaha, Nebraska.


Intense feelings of community and state pride were summed up by Governor Brooks: "Our hearts throb with pride at the thought that this beautiful stone was quarried from Wyoming ledges; that the brain, the brawn, the money with which finally is to see that the capstone is in place, are all Wyoming. Upon this cornerstone will be a grand Cathedral."

Those sentiments were echoed on January 31, 1909, when the Cathedral was consecrated by Bishop Maurice F. Burke of St. Joseph, Missouri, who had been Cheyenne's first bishop (1887-1893), and by Bishop John P. Carroll of Helena, Montana, who delivered the first sermon.

They observed that the Cathedral bore witness to years of work and dedication of pastors and parishioners and gave evidence of material and spiritual progress in Wyoming.

The magnificent structure, the Cathedral of St. Mary, stood with noble Gothic lines against the clear blue Wyoming sky then as it does today -- its tower visible for miles. Architects Fisher and Lowery from Omaha, Nebraska, used the architectural style of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in their design. The Cathedral measuring 135 feet in length and 70 feet at the transept was built entirely of Wyoming grey sandstone.


Large arches of steel and concrete trimmed with oak spanned the interior celing. Two side gallaries, a choir loft, a vestibule, and a sacristy completed the structure.

The building, with its interior decorations, totaled $125,000 and was debt-free when completed. Stained glass windows in the body of the church, in the galleries, and on the side walls of the sanctuary were imported from Europe and donated as memorials. The large Madonna window in the choir loft was also imported from Europe and was a gift of the Knights of Columbus.

Father Duffy served St. Mary's Cathedral and its parishioners for nine years before becoming Bishop of Kearney. For the following two years (1913-1915), Bishop McGovern took charge of the Parish as well as the administration of the Diocese of Cheyenne.

Reverend James A. Hartmann began a lengthy and challenging pastorate of 58 years on May 1, 1915. Father Hartmann also became the administrator of St. Mary's School. Just as all of his endeavors met with great vigor, he took an active interest in the school -- teaching German and religion classes.

A modern school building, which became St. Mary's High School, a new St. Mary's Grade School, an addition connecting the two schools, a larger convent, and a building known for almost 40 years as the Cathedral Hall -- all were part of ambitious building projects completed by Father Hartmann.

Father Hartmann was installed as Domestic Prelate by Bishop Hubert M. Newell at an impressive ceremony in the Cathedral on February 16, 1952. The Right Reverend Monsignor, as he was then known, continued with the work of the parish in his seemingly tireless manner.

The Cathedral Organ

The Visser-Rowland tracker pipe organ at St. Mary's Cathedral was dedicated to the glory of God in March, 1992, and stands as a visible symbol of the love and generosity of hundreds, both parishioners of the Cathedral and people of Cheyenne at large, who made this dream a reality.

The placement of the organ in the Cathedral resulted in the reconfiguration and restoration of the Madonna window on the west wall. Because of the weight of the magnificent new organ (36,000 pounds), the gallery floor was reinforced prior to its installation.

Many different types of wood were used in the construction of the instrument. The casework is Appalachian red oak.

Inside the organ, basswood and special plywood from the Baltics were used. The keyboards follow a historic color scheme with the naturals being of Macassar ebony and the sharps of maple.

The organ is housed in two cases: a main case containing the Hauptwerk, Schwellwerk, and Pedal divisions, and a secondary case on the gallery rail containing the Ruckpositiv division.

It is completely freestanding and enclosed, which both blends and projects the sound of the pipes forward, as well as protects them and the working elements of the instrument from sunlight, dust, and unauthorized access.

Chief among the many attributes of the new organ is the use of mechanical ("tracker") key action for great musical sensitivity. Operating on basic mechanical principles of fulcrums and levers, this action consists of long, narrow strips of wood called trackers, which connect the keys with the pallets (valves) under the pipes.

The Stained-Glass Windows

The numerous, beautiful, and very valuable stained glass windows of the Cathedral were installed sometime after the Cathedral was consecrated, but it is not known when.

Nor are there any records indicating where or under whose artistic direction they were made or at what original cost. It is thought that the windows were made in Europe, perhaps at Dresden, Germany, and one of the windows is said to have been damaged during an ocean voyage and later replaced.

Virtually all that is now known are the titles of the windows -- the eight on either side of the nave and the one above the entrance, which we know draws upon Raphael's Sistine Madonna.

The stained glass window above the organ is inspired by Raphael's superb altarpiece, the Sistine Madonna. Originally painted about 1513 for the Church of S. Sisto in Piacenza, today it is in the Gemaeldegalerie in Dresden, Germany.

One of the most celebrated artists of the High Renaissance, Raphael was the "prince of painters," a man who in his thirty-seven short years created some of the greatest works of art of all time.

The maker of the stained glass window, however, took many liberties with Raphael's original work, and yet lost none of the vitality of the original.

Inconsistent with the original, halos have been added. And whereas in the painting, the clothing of each of the figure groups actually touches, that is not so in the window.

In the background, the dome of St. Peter's (not in the original) has been added. Yet the Madonna and the Child are as miraculous as ever. At the left St. Sixtus, actually an effigy of Pope Julius II (Raphael's great patron who had died in 1513), gives adoration.

On the right the lowered eyes of the humble and kneeling St. Barbara reflect the inner yearning that rises up from the hearts of the faithful. Through this powerful imagery, the Blessed Virgin and Christ Child seem luminous and close to us all.

Monsignor James A. Hartmann

The Right Reverend Monsignor James A. Hartmann, while in the Seminary, was recruited for the Diocese of Cheyenne by Bishop Keane, then Ordinary of the Diocese.

Father arrived in Cheyenne on July 13, 1915 and was immediately sent to a parish in the northern part of the state. A few months later he was recalled to Cheyenne and assumed his duties as Pastor of St. Mary's Cathedral Parish by Bishop McGovern. He served as Rector of the Cathedral faithfully and diligently for the next 44 years.

He was appointed Chancellor of the Diocese soon after becoming Pastor, and most of the newly ordained priests served their apprenticeship under Father's tutelage. These young priests then went out to the near and far corners of Wyoming where Father's influence has been felt for years.

The Pastor soon became recognized as an untiring, industrious worker and acknowledged for his financial expertise.

One of the first projects he undertook was the improvement of Olivet Cemetery which had been viewed as a desolate, unkempt area. With the help of volunteers, their horses and wagons, he straightened markers, graded roads, fenced the land, and finally planted his garden--the produce from which was unrivaled in Cheyenne.

Seeing the need for additional room for meetings and recreation, the Pastor purchased one-fourth of the block directly west of the Cathedral and in 1923 built the structure known for almost five decades as the Cathedral Hall. This building served as a meeting place for various Church and civic organizations, for City League basketball games, and as the USO during World War II. It was later sold to the U.S. Government and the area is now the location of the O'Mahoney Building.