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175 Flashback: Cathedral a reality due to Bishop Timon’s zeal

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When the dioceses of Buffalo and Albany were created from the New York Diocese in 1847, the city of Buffalo had been incorporated for only 15 years. The Catholic population of approximately 10,000 were served by three permanent churches and eight temporary structures. Father John Timon, CM, was named Buffalo’s first Bishop in 1847. When he came to Buffalo, he rented a three-story brick house across the street from St. Patrick Church which served the English-speaking Catholics of Buffalo. St. Patrick Church was used as Bishop Timon’s temporary cathedral.

St. Joseph Cathedral

In 1849, Bishop Timon went to Rome to report to the Holy Father on the progress and condition of the Diocese of Buffalo. He used this opportunity to visit many of Europe’s cathedrals and to raise money to help build a cathedral in Buffalo. Pope Pius IX suggested that the diocese be placed under the patronage of St. Joseph. Bishop Timon did not realize at the time that the Buffalo area had been dedicated to St. Joseph 200 years earlier by Jesuit missionaries. The kings of Bavaria and Naples and other European notables gave Bishop Timon donations of money, sacred objects and art.

Ground was broken for the Cathedral on Feb. 2, 1851, and the cornerstone laid on Feb. 6. The Cathedral was dedicated July 1, 1855 although the interior had not yet been completed. It served as the cathedral for the first four bishops of Buffalo: John Timon, Stephen Ryan, James Quigley and Charles Colton.

The cathedral also served as a parish. The first rector was Father Peter Bede, and the first services for the congregation were conducted on Aug. 21, 1855. A parochial school was established and many parish organizations were initiated. By 1863, the church was free of debt and it was solemnly consecrated Aug. 21, 1863.

It was in 1912 that Bishop Charles Colton announced his plan to build a new cathedral on the corner of Delaware and West Utica Street. After it was built, the original cathedral was known as St. Joseph Old Cathedral. Msgr. Edmund J. Britt was appointed pastor of the Old Cathedral in 1926 and remained pastor until his death in 1971. During his tenure, he brought new life to the established societies, founded new organizations, introduced the Old Cathedral Radio Hour, and established Camp Turner. He completely renovated the Old Cathedral for its centennial in 1955.

St. Joseph Cathedral during the 2022 ordination Mass.

When it became necessary to raze the New Cathedral in 1972, Bishop Edward Head once again made St. Joseph Old Cathedral the official diocesan Cathedral. It underwent renovation at that time and then again in the late 1990s during the episcopacy of Bishop Henry J. Mansell in preparation for the sesquicentennial anniversary of the diocese and the celebration of the new millennium. Five bishops are buried in the Cathedral: John Timon, Stephen Ryan, Charles Colton, Edward D. Head and Edward Kmiec. Msgr. William Gleeson, rector from 1864-1871, is also buried there. The current rector of the cathedral is Father Sean Paul Fleming.

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