The history of St. Joseph’s Cathedral, the Diocese of Sioux Falls, and the state of South Dakota are truly intertwined. The story, of course, really begins when Catholic missionary priests journeyed into what would become the Dakota Territory. The first of these was Father Pierre Jean De Smet, who began ministering in the region in 1838.
From those beginnings, the Catholic faith spread among the Native Americans and early settlers of the Plains. Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, a small log structure built in Bruyer’s Settlement four miles east of Vermillion, is generally recognized as the first Catholic Church established in what would become the Diocese of Sioux Falls.
In March of 1861, legislation was signed creating the Dakota Territory. The Homestead Act, signed a few days later, began to attract settlers to the area. In time, Yankton became the territorial capital. And it was Yankton that Bishop Martin Marty, designated vicar apostolic of the Dakota Territories in August 1879, chose as his Episcopal home.
Sacred Heart Parish in Yankton became the Bishop’s first Pro-Cathedral Church. In 1883, however, the territorial capital had been moved to Bismarck, ND and by 1889 Sioux Falls had grown dramatically. In February of that year, Bishop Marty relocated to Sioux Falls.
The first parish in Sioux Falls was St. Michael’s. The wood structure that was the original parish home burned in 1881. The church rebuilt, and dedicated a more substantial brick structure located on the corner of 5th and Duluth in 1883. This became Bishop Marty’s new Pro-Cathedral Church when he came in 1889. In September Pope Leo XIII established the Diocese of Sioux Falls encompassing all of SD, in November of the same year, South Dakota officially became the 40th state.
A New Bishop
When Bishop Thomas O’Gorman succeeded Bishop Marty in 1896, he inherited a diocese that included the entire state of South Dakota. Due to the logistical difficulties presented by the necessity of administering this large an area, much of which could only be reached by stagecoach or wagon, Bishop O’Gorman recommended that the diocese be divided. The pope agreed, and the Diocese of Lead was created in 1902.
As the Catholic Church continued to grow in South Dakota, several parishes replaced their initial wooden churches with more impressive structures. Bishop O’Gorman began to dream of a fitting structure to serve as a true cathedral for the Diocese of Sioux Falls.
Bishop O’Gorman was a lifelong friend of Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul, MN. In 1915, Bishop O’Gorman participated in the dedication of the new cathedral in St. Paul. That experience strengthened his conviction that the time was right for a cathedral in Sioux Falls.
Bishop O’Gorman conferred with Emmanuel Masqueray, the French architect who designed the St. Paul Cathedral and served as the chief designer for the building of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. Incorporating Bishop O’Gorman’s suggestions, Masqueray created a majestic and uniquely beautiful design for St. Joseph’s Cathedral.
Building a cathedral was a great undertaking for a diocese that was largely rural and had roughly half as many parishioners as there are today. But support for The Cathedral was strong, so with vision and faith the diocese tackled the construction of a Mother Church.
It was determined that the best possible site for the new Cathedral was the spot occupied by St. Michael’s church. So, the brick church was moved, the parish house razed, and construction got underway in the summer of 1915.
The construction process was not without its obstacles. Masqueray passed away in May of 1917. Fortunately, Edwin Lundie of St. Paul, one of Masqueray’s chief assistants, was secured to complete the project. Lundie, who had previously lived in South Dakota, was able to bring the work to a successful conclusion.
Progress was also hindered somewhat by the start of World War I. The resulting shortage of skilled workers and materials was also a likely contributor to a final cost—$390,000—that was considerably higher than the original bid of $275,000.
Nevertheless, the majestic cathedral was completed and dedicated on May 7, 1919. The first Mass had, in fact, already been celebrated in the unfinished cathedral on December 8, 1918.
A Beacon of Hope
For almost 90 years, The Cathedral has served as a beacon of hope for both a community and a Diocese. As both a parish church and the Mother Church of the Diocese, The Cathedral has served as an active hub of community ministry as well as a source of authoritative teaching and governance for all diocesan parishes.
Seven bishops have occupied the cathedra, the bishop’s chair, at the Cathedral in that time. And there have been a number of significant changes and additions to the original building. The most notable are:
1935 – Kilgen pipe organ, donated by Monsignor Mulloney, installed in the choir loft
1942 – A fire in the lower church causes serious damage to the entire building
1943 – Full-color painting of interior by Conrad Schmitt Studios
1946 – Current marble high Altar and tester are erected
1947 – French stenciled stained glass windows replace original frosted glass windows
1950s-60s – Painted iconography is covered in sanctuary
1961-62 – Towers repaired, tuck pointing, roof work
1970-74 – Interior restoration and repainting; Freestanding altar installed Sanctuary renovated
1996 – Tuck pointing, replacement of damaged stone, tower repair
2004 – Chapel of the Sacred Heart constructed within old sacristy Basement renovated into parish hall, handicap accessible entrances and elevator installed and parish offices moved to the old Cathedral High School – now the Chancery Offices.
Faith is what built The Cathedral. Those pioneers who had a vision for what could be, sacrificed much to construct a worthy home for the cathedra—the bishop’s chair. The Cathedral Restoration is intended to ensure that The Cathedral not only receives the care necessary to preserve this gift entrusted to future generations, but also the attention it deserves in order to bring out the full beauty of this unique and magnificent treasure.