“Cathedrals are not medieval monuments but rather houses of life in which we feel at home and where we meet God and one another.”
— Pope Benedict XVI
St. Paul Cathedral, Pittsburgh, Pa., is the center of spiritual life for some 3,000 parishioners and more than three quarters of a million Catholics in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
The first place of public worship for Catholics in the area was in the stockade of Fort Duquesne in 1754. From the French evacuation in 1758 until 1808, there were no resident priests, but Mass was occasionally said in private homes by missionaries traveling west. In 1808 a church was established at the corner of Liberty and Washington Streets
Pittsburgh was named the seat of a diocese in 1843, and Saint Paul’s Church at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Grant Street was consecrated as its Cathedral.
Over time, the city’s residences shifted away from the Downtown area, which was increasingly given over to industry. St. Paul’s Downtown property was sold to industrialist Henry Clay Frick and a new cathedral built in 1906 at Fifth Avenue in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood. Oakland at the turn of the century was the city’s fast-growing cultural hub, already home to major museums and universities. The original cost of the building and furnishings was nearly $1.1 million dollars, including $205,000 for the real estate.
Designed by Egan and Prindeville of Chicago and built by Thomas Reilly, a general contractor from Philadelphia, the new Saint Paul’s is an example of the Scholastic, or Decorated, Gothic style of the 14th Century.
The building rises 247 feet with a statue of St. Paul mounted on the center pediment. Other exterior statues depict the apostles and evangelists.
In more than a century of Catholic life, the Cathedral has hosted many notables, including Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (Pope Blessed John Paul II), Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Venerable Bishop Fulton J. Sheen.
When construction of the present cathedral began, many Catholics wondered why Bishop Phelan had chosen a site so far out of the way. Today we can see the wisdom of Bishop Phelan’s choice. St. Paul’s stands right in the intellectual heart of Pittsburgh, surrounded by the city’s most prestigious institutions — universities, concert halls, museums, libraries, and research centers. Perhaps even more than the original downtown site, the Oakland site tells the world that the Catholic Church is an essential part of Pittsburgh culture.