The Completion and Dedication of The Cathedral of The Madeleine, 1909

Entry and photo by CARLY KUNZ

Photo by Carly Kunz, April 21, 2010.

The Cathedral of The Madeleine was dedicated on August 15, 1909. It took ten years for its completion and the completion was in part due to the devotion of Bishop Lawrence Scanlan. Bishop Scanlan came to Salt Lake City on August 14, 1873. He came with the aspiration to teach Catholicism in Salt Lake City and allow the religion to flourish. Upon his arrival, he created Catholic schools and hospitals. With the Catholic community beginning to thrive, Scanlan approached his next dream. He dreamed of creating a cathedral “that would look out across Salt Lake Valley from the heart of the city all the way to where the mountains push up against the sky.” (Mooney, 12)

On February 25, 1890, Bishop Scanlan purchased the land for the Cathedral for $35,000. That land is located on what we know today as B Street and South Temple. Mooney credits Bishop Scanlan with drawing the final plans for the Cathedral “over a period of eight years from the time of the purchase of the site.” (Mooney, 16)

The groundbreaking for the Cathedral occurred on Independence Day of 1899; however, it wouldn’t be finished until 1909. The overall construction ended up costing $344,000. The construction was delayed for the reason that Bishop Scanlan felt it was better to delay the process rather than accumulate further debts. (Mooney, 17)

Nonetheless, Bishop Scanlan was able to see through his dream. On August 14, 1909, The Intermountain Catholic reported:

Yes, Bishop Scanlan is a wonderful man, but don’t let him hear you say it. If you want to get into his good graces, just say: ‘Bishop, you have a wonderful, a good people.’ He will assure you then, with a warm handshake, that they are the best of the best, and that these institutions, which today are the glory of the diocese, are all due to their generosity. And the Cathedral itself, the crowning glory of the Bishop’s life, looks out proudly and boldly to the mountains of Utah, and it whispers: ‘I am the temple of the Living God, I stand guard at the gates of the West, and my pinnacles, as they soar up and point to Heaven, remind men that as they dig and delve for gold there is another digging to be done, a digging and delving on the great road to God.’

The completion and the dedication of the cathedral were not only substantial accomplishments for Bishop Scanlan, but for the Catholic community in the Salt Lake Valley as well. The Intermountain Catholic was a publication within the Salt Lake Valley that provided news and reports on Catholicism. With the dedication of the cathedral just a week away the anticipation in the community was high. The Intermountain Catholic on August 7, 1909, reported, “Right Reverend Bishop Scanlan accompanied by Very Reverend Dean Harris, went to Pocatello Thursday night to meet Cardinal Gibbons, who is going to the national park before he visits Salt Lake.” The newspaper also warned (in this same issue), “Those who have not yet rented seats or pews for the dedication should see or phone Reverend W.K. Ryan, who has the charge of the seating. The desirable seats are nearly all gone.” The article added: “Owing to the fact that there are 7,500 Catholic people in Salt Lake and that seats for only 1,200 can be provided it has been determined to make the admission solely by ticket for both the morning and evening service.”

The day before the dedication The Intermountain Catholic quoted the “History of the Catholic Church in Utah” by Very Reverend Dean Harris: “The Cathedral of Salt Lake is without exception, architecturally, the finest ecclesiastical structure west of the Missouri. Resting on an imperishable foundation of massive blocks of granite, the great building occupies a commanding site in one of the finest quarters of the city, and imparts to the surrounding neighborhood a tone of quiet solemnity and impressive dignity.” (Mooney, 22)

According to Mooney and Dwyer,

The dedication on August 15, 1909, proved to be one of the most brilliant assemblies of American Church dignitaries the Far West had even seen …. The actual ceremony of dedication was performed by the Right Reverend Denis O’Connell, Auxiliary Bishop of San Francisco, and preceded the Mass. In the sanctuary were present His Eminence James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, undoubtedly the outstanding man in contemporary American Hierarchy; the Most Revered John J. Glennon, Archbishop of St. Louis (and later a Cardinal)…; the Most Revered J. Dappenwill, Archbishop of Vancouver; the Right Reverend Richard Scannel, Bishop of Omaha …; the Right Reverend J.J. Keane, Reverend A.J. Glorieux, Bishop of Boise … and the Right Reverend John J. Carroll, Bishop of Helena. (Mooney, 22)

The next publication of The Intermountain Catholic came out on August 21, 1909. This publication featured articles such as, “Cardinal Gibbons Delivers Address, A Great Orator.” A Great Orator” offered a quote from The Evening Telegram, in which Judge Goodwin said:

The exercises in the cathedral yesterday were most impressive. The authorities of the great church were present in full force — priests, bishops, archbishops and the cardinal: the music was filled with solemn splendor; the cathedral itself is both majestic and beautiful and those who heard the dedicatory sermon were charmed. The speaker has some of the rarest gifts of the orator. There was not a trace of the theatrical in his manner, but there was a sincerity and power in his arguments which showed clearly that what concerned him was not how he should speak, but what he was to say and here and there was a simple sentence which apparently unstudied, was as filled with stateliness and splendor as a great anthem. It was a great day for our Catholic friends.

Overall, the dedication was very well perceived. People were impressed with the stunning architecture of The Cathedral of the Madeleine. Utah Historical Quarterly observed in 1981 that with the exception of the “decoration of the interior,” the architecture and design of the cathedral has remained the same since its dedication in 1909. Not only has the architecture remained substantial, but its importance to the Catholic community in the Salt Lake Valley has also remained the same. Bishop Scanlan created a truly beautiful work of architecture, but more importantly a place of worship that will continue to bring the Catholic community of the Salt Lake Valley together.

Carly Kunz is a senior at The University of Utah. She is majoring in mass communication and will be graduating in August 2010.


“Bishop Scanlan And St. Mary’s Cathedral,” The Salt Lake Herald, July 20, 1907.

“Dedication Of The Cathedral,” The Intermountain Catholic, August 7, 1909.

“A Great Orator,” The Intermountain Catholic, August 21, 1909.

Rev. W.R. Harris, “The Catholic Church In Utah: Parishes And Missions,” The Intermountain Catholic, 1909.

Bernice M. Mooney. “The Cathedral of the Madeleine: The Building and Embellishment of a Historic Place.” Utah Historical Quarterly 49 (1981): 110-32.

Bernice Maher Mooney. The Story of the Cathedral of the Madeleine. Salt Lake City, Utah: Litho Grafics, 1981.

Sacerdos, “The Bishop of Salt Lake Communicated,” The Intermountain Catholic, August 14, 1909.

“St. Mary Magdalene’s Cathedral,” The Intermountain Catholic, August 14, 1909.