During the height of news reports that New England was suffering through a real cold snap this past winter, I called my sister, who lives in northeastern Massachusetts, and asked just how cold it was. “Ambient or wind chill?” she asked.
“Ambient,” I replied quickly.
The next thing she heard was laughter — loads of uncontrollable laughter. Then she told me the wind chill was 60 below zero. “OK,” I said, trying to contain myself. “That can be serious.”
Of course, the joke was that 1 below zero can be a mild winter day in Minnesota. But Minnesota has other seasons as well. Contrary to popular belief, the North Star State is not part of the arctic tundra and, in the summer of 1987, we had about 14 days where the mercury topped 100 degrees.
What's more, Minnesota is always warm with its spiritual — and specifically Catholic — heritage.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the most famous landmark of which is the Cathedral of St. Paul. Begun under the leadership of Archbishop John Ireland, this magnificent sanctuary, with its distinctive green copper dome, is situated on one of the highest points in the city.
A Pope Prayed Here
Archbishop Ireland was determined, after there had been three previous cathedrals, to build something grand, glorious and majestic, which is exactly what he got. This building is rich with ecclesiastical and secular history. Pope Pius XII once came within its walls, as did President John F. Kennedy. (The pew where Kennedy sat is marked by a plaque — it's in the second row of pews on the right facing the altar, fourth pew back.)
With bronze grilles depicting the life of St. Paul lining the sanctuary, a great bronze sculpture set atop shiny black marble pillars for a baldachino, larger-than-life size statues of the four Evangelists set in the corners of the church, numerous chapels with exquisite statuary and marble work, this cathedral is an art lovers’ paradise.
If you come to visit, be sure to arrive well before the 10 a.m. Sunday Mass to hear the great bronze bells intone the call to worship and then attend what is arguably one of the best Novus Ordo Masses in the country. The sound of Gregorian chant and organ with choir in that great space is something not soon forgotten.
Other churches to visit in St. Paul include St. Louis in downtown, sometimes referred to as “The Little French Church.” A recently restored and enhanced interior is a fitting testament to the faith that permeates this parish.
One aspect of the restoration that is wonderful to see as well as hear is the new organ. Though it looks as though it could be domineering, its designers did an excellent job at keeping the sound from overwhelming the congregation and choir. In fact, St. Louis has an organ recital every Tuesday at noon.
Just a little north of downtown is St. Agnes, a famous place among Latin Mass enthusiasts. Msgr. Richard Schuler is pastor there. The editor of Sacred Music magazine and author of numerous articles relating to liturgy and the post-Vatican II era is also a conductor, a skill he uses almost every Sunday as members of the Minnesota Orchestra provide accompaniment at Mass. The church itself is a marvelous example of French baroque architecture, also renovated within the last few years.
A very Catholic town compared to its more Lutheran twin, St. Paul also has such churches as Assumption in downtown, one of the oldest in the state, and St. Mark and Nativity of Our Lord churches, both on the western end of town. Leaflet Missal, whose catalog many readers may know, is located not far from St. Agnes.
While you're here, you may as well enjoy the great cultural benefits offered. The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra's concerts are given, not just at the Ordway Theater, but in other locations around town. It is the only full-time chamber orchestra in the country and is considered to be one of the best in the world. There are numerous theater productions here as well, including Garrison Keillor's “A Prairie Home Companion” at the Fitzgerald Theater.
Other sights to see are the Minnesota Museum of Modern Art in the Landmark Center; the Minnesota History Museum, which is just down John Ireland Boulevard from the cathedral and, a little further down that same road, the Minnesota State Capitol with its own unmistakable dome.
In fact, one architecture critic has said that if the domes on the cathedral and the Capitol were together in Europe, people would be constantly flocking to see them.
Oh, and there are also a few things to see and do in that other town (Minneapolis). The Minnesota Orchestra resides there (its plays at the Ordway in St. Paul), along with the Guthrie Theater, the Minneapolis Museum of Art, a great system of trails around the five lakes within the city limits and the Basilica of St. Mary — the first minor basilica in the United States and the co-cathedral of the archdiocese.
Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz is editor of the Times Review, newspaper of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin.