Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral
A small twelve thousand dollar cement church building was opened on December 10, 1837. This modest structure was known as the church of Saints Peter and Paul. Over the years, the Catholics in Providence grew in number. There was also an influx of Irish Catholic Immigrants, and the small church of Saints Peter and Paul could no longer accommodate all the devotees. The Catholic population grew to over two hundred thousand by the year 1872. Bishop McFarland proposed the construction of a bigger church, but, unfortunately, he did not get the necessary support for such a project. In 1871, Pope Pius IX founded the Diocese of Providence to cover Rhode Island, part of Massachusetts and Martha’s Vineyard.
Father Thomas Hendricken was the first Bishop of Providence’s new diocese, which had a Catholic population of more than one hundred thousand; over fifty priests; forty three churches, six academies, one orphan asylum and nine parish schools attended by around four thousand students. Like Bishop McFarland, Bishop Hendricken thought that it was necessary to build a larger cathedral to replace the outdated and ineffective building. Bishop Hendricken worked to pay off a rather sizable debt the parish had incurred in the past, so that the construction of the new church could begin. He was able to pay off the entire sixteen thousand dollar debt in 1872, after which, the preliminary planning for the new building began.
Patrick C. Keely was commissioned to draft the plans for the project. He started the conceptualization and the schematic design phase for the church in 1873. In 1874, a interim place of worship was built after Bishop Hendricken approved the design plans for the construction of a nineteen thousand dollar cathedral. A new rectory was built in place of the old one at the corner of Fenner and Pond streets to house Catholic devotees while the new cathedral was still being put up. To this day, through the preservation efforts of worshippers, the rectory still stands.
The footings and foundations of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul were laid in 1878. Bishop Hendricken, realizing the heavy financial burden of undertaking a construction project of such a large scale, began setting aside ten thousand dollars each year. In addition to this, he organized several fundraising campaigns to ensure finances for the new church.
In 1882, the roof was finally completed. The designers and carpenters began working on the cathedral interiors. Regrettably, and to the distress of the Catholic population in Providence, Bishop Hendricken’s health quickly deteriorated and he passed away before the close of the project that he, ultimately, spearheaded. Although it was yet to be finished, the new Cathedral was chosen as the venue for Bishop Hendricken’s funeral mass. By the time of his passing, around three hundred thousand dollars had been spent on the construction. In June 1889, the magnificent Cathedral was blessed by Bishop Matthew Harkins.