11 Western Cathedrals You Should Visit

“The pre-eminent manifestation of the Church is found whenever the rites of Mass are celebrated, especially in the Cathedral Church...” (Redemptionis Sacramentum, 20)

Above: The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento, California. Below: The Cathedral of St. Helena in Helena, Montana.
Above: The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento, California. Below: The Cathedral of St. Helena in Helena, Montana. (photo: Register Files)

The Western United States and Canada have some magnificent cathedrals worth a visit.  Below are 11 you might like to see when you’re in the area:


The Cathedral of St. Helena (www.sthelenas.org) in Helena, Montana is a magnificent, historic gothic cathedral that is the mother church of the Diocese of St. Helena. The church opened for Mass in 1914, although work on the structure continued for another ten years.  

A wealthy miner funded the cathedral, which is modeled after one in Vienna, Austria.  It is ornate, with high, decorative ceilings and marble columns, beautiful stained glass windows, impressive woodwork, a pipe organ and beautiful traditional art. It is located in downtown Helena, and surprisingly large for a relatively small city (its towers stand out impressively as you view the city landscape). Check the website for cathedral tours for groups. If you’re in the area in December, you can go to the cathedral and watch the Helena Symphony and Chorale perform Handel’s Messiah.


The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament (www.cathedralsacramento.org) in downtown Sacramento, California, is just a block from the State Capitol. It is the largest cathedral west of the Mississippi River, and is done in the style of the great European cathedrals.  

Patrick Manogue, Sacramento’s first bishop, built it. He was originally a miner in the California Gold Rush. He used his gold money to fund a trip to Paris, where he studied for the priesthood and fell in love with the great cathedrals. After becoming bishop in 1886, he began construction on the cathedral on land he purchased. It was completed in 1889.  

It’s a beautiful church, inside and out, a historic landmark and a favorite Sacramento tourist attraction. You can take a self-guided tour or be led by a volunteer docent; see the website for details.


Holy Rosary Cathedral (www.holyrosarycathedral.org) in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, is the cathedral church of the Archdiocese of Vancouver.  It was founded in 1885; the current church was built in 1900.  It was declared a cathedral in 1916.  It is a French Gothic church with many beautiful features, including 21 stained glass windows, traditional statues, marble columns and eight bells. It’s a hub of spiritual activity in the heart of downtown Vancouver, with many Masses, opportunities for confession and devotions.


Ss. Simon & Jude Cathedral (www.simonjude.org) in Phoenix, Arizona was established as a parish in 1953. Its pastor was an Irish priest; Loretto Sisters staffed the parish school (and still serve the parish today).  The current church was built 1965-66, and dedicated in 1966. It became a cathedral when the diocese was formed in 1969.  

Its most famous visitors have included Pope John Paul II (in 1987) and Mother Teresa (1989). It’s a red brick building with a large white marble altar and baldacchino (altar canopy).  There is a cathedral bookstore open daily. The Knights of Columbus recently dedicated a memorial to the unborn on the parish grounds.  

Its rector, Fr. John Lankeit, achieved some notoriety last year after his October homily on voting in the presidential election (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=881aDDE5qFY).


St. Andrew’s Cathedral (www.standrewscathedral.com) in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada is the cathedral church of the Diocese of Victoria, which encompasses all of Vancouver Island (there are multiple ferry routes from Washington State and Vancouver, or you can fly). It is a majestic old church built in 1892, and features Victorian Gothic architecture, including a 175-foot spire. Due to the age of the church renovation is ongoing. Its interior features many traditional stained glass windows and artwork. It is showing signs of its age, though, so expect to see ongoing renovation work when you arrive.

Tourism is a big industry in Victoria, and since St. Andrew’s is located downtown near many tourist attractions, it draws many visitors to the area. There are also a significant number of elderly Catholics, as well as a number of Asian immigrants.


The Cathedral of St. Augustine in Tucson, Arizona (www.cathedral-staugustine.org) is a beautiful old church in the downtown area of the city.  The parish was established in 1866; the church was completed in 1868, and rebuilt in 1897. In 1928, its brick structure was transformed into its present Mexican baroque form.  

With the exception of the towers and façade, the current church was rebuilt in 1968. The façade features the coat of arms of Pope Pius XI, who was pope during an earlier period of its construction. A central feature of its interior is a 17-foot tall, 2,000 lb. Pamplona crucifix, which was carved in Spain more than 600 years ago.  Other interior features include stained glass windows featuring symbols of the Apostles, paintings of Old Testament heroes such as Daniel, David, Isaiah and Ezekiel, a portion of the church dedicated to images of Our Lady of Guadalupe and a Good Shepherd mosaic over one of the side altars.  The high ceilings give it a wide open feeling, and, as it is the diocesan cathedral, you’ll see the bishop’s chair there.  

One of its nicest features is its newly completed vestibule area, which features a wall to ceiling mural with 18 saints who served the poor (including St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Teresa of Calcutta).  The cathedral has been undergoing a renovation, murals of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and blessing children have been recently added.


St. Francis de Sales Cathedral (www.saintfranciscathedral.com) in Baker City, Oregon, is the cathedral parish of the Diocese of Baker, the eastern two-thirds of the State of Oregon.  The cathedral is in the northeast corner of the state, not far from the Idaho border. It’s a beautiful, historic Gothic revival church, built 1906-08, made of volcanic tuff stone on the exterior with colorful stained glass windows and traditional statues and paintings inside.  Baker City was once home of the chancery office of the diocese, but it was moved to the more central and populated Bend in 1985. The bishop may celebrate Christmas and Easter at the cathedral, and there is an annual Chrism Mass. Other significant events, such as the ordination of priests, are held in Bend, about a 5-hour drive away.

The eastern portion of Oregon is sparsely populated with few jobs (one of the big industries, timber, has been in decline), hence there is a dearth of younger families with children.  Although the diocese is composed of much of the state of Oregon, there are fewer than 40,000 Catholics, or 7% of the general population.  Parishes typically have a single priest who covers one or more parish mission churches.


St. John’s Cathedral (www.stjohnsfresno.org) in Fresno is a historic church, established in 1882, located in the historic district of the city.  It is the City of Fresno’s first parish.  It started with a modest five Catholic families; the current church was completed in 1903.  It’s a beautiful church, with twin spires on the outside and fabulous artwork inside.  There are many beautiful paintings and frescos, stained glass and a traditional altar.  With the possible exception of the Shrine of St. Therese, it is the diocese’s most beautiful parish.


The Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph (www.stjosephcathedral.org) in downtown San Jose, California is a minor basilica and the cathedral church for the Diocese of San Jose.  It is also the first parish established in California not affiliated with a mission, although it was staffed with Franciscan priests (Jesuits would later take over staffing).  St. Joseph’s Church was first built of adobe at its current site in 1803.  Construction on the current church began in 1876.  It was dedicated the following year.  The portico was completed in 1884; the large dome was completed in 1885.  A major renovation of the church occurred more than 30 years ago; in 1985 it became a cathedral.  Pope John Paul II made it a minor basilica in 1997.  

It is a California Historical Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It has beautiful stained glass windows, statues and other artwork.  It also has an 1886 Odell organ, one of only four instruments of its kind still surviving in the United States.  Religious items are available in the parish gift shop.

One downside of visiting, there is NO parking lot.  You can park on the street in metered parking Monday-Saturday.  Sundays are free.  You can also park in nearby lots not owned by the church and pay a flat fee for parking.


St. Mary’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (www.maryscathedral.com) in Portland, Oregon is the seat of the Archdiocese of Portland.  It was built in 1926, and features many beautiful works of art (take a tour of the art on the parish website) and a large pipe organ in the back.  It’s located in an older neighborhood in Portland; nearby there are a number of other houses of worship, including an Episcopalian cathedral, Lutheran church and Jewish temple.


St. Thomas Aquinas Cathedral (www.stacathedral.com) in Reno, Nevada is the mother church of the Diocese of Reno.  It is a beautiful, traditional-style church built in 1908.  It has traditional architecture a variety of beautiful art, including stained glass windows, and altar mural depicting the saints and entrance doors covered in copper (from local mines).  There is a religious goods gift shop open daily; hours vary day-to-day.  The parish is staffed by Conventual Franciscan priests.