St. Joseph’s Sanctuary: Cathedral Has Beckoned the Faithful for More Than 100 Years

St. Joseph is honored in multiple ways in the edifice bearing his eponym.

St. Joseph is honored in multiple ways in the edifice bearing his eponym.
St. Joseph is honored in multiple ways in the edifice bearing his eponym. (photo: Courtesy of the Cathedral of St. Joseph)

Thirty years after Pope Leo XIII established the Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, its Cathedral of St. Joseph (online at was dedicated, in May 1919. The first Mass had been celebrated in the unfinished cathedral on Dec. 8, 1918, fittingly on the feast of St. Joseph’s spouse, Mary.

The stone edifice towers on a high hill not far from the city’s riverside, its twin spires reaching toward the clouds — and a landmark today for pilots approaching the area’s airport.

Emmanuel Masqueray, a French architect who designed several churches across the upper Midwest and was chief designer for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, used his talents for the cathedral’s design. But because he died midway through the construction — as did Sioux Falls’ bishop at the time, Thomas O’Gorman — a chief assistant completed the project. 

To further complicate matters, the project also ran out of funds around this time. There were renovations over the decades, but between 2009 and 2011, under the leadership of architect Duncan Stroik, the church was fully restored. 

“This was an amazing project,” Stroik tells the Register of the renovation. “It was a cathedral that had never been finished, so what we did was actually study the history of the cathedral and what it might have been had the architect and Bishop O’Gorman lived three to four years more. We called it a creative restoration. We put things in there [that were] never there, but [that] we believed appropriate for the [vision of the] architect and bishop and for the building.” 


Under the Dome

Stepping inside the 225-foot-long interior, one immediately takes in the marble main altar, with its domed, circular baldacchino raised high by four green marble columns. 

The restored Nativity scene fills the huge dome in the apse. 

This combination of colorful bas relief and mural is original to the cathedral and restored to its pristine condition. Above the depiction of the Holy Family, and where sheep are shown resting peacefully before the manger, artwork of angels above unfurl a banner reading Adoremus Domini while the Holy Spirit is seen hovering over the scene. Around the Nativity’s circular frame, four squares capture the symbolic images of the Evangelists — an eagle for St. John, ox for St. Luke, lion for St. Mark, and man for St. Matthew. To either side of the apse the Magi are shown  arriving, as shepherds adore the Christ Child in awe. Much is gilded in gold.

“Mary is lifting the swaddling clothes off Jesus to reveal him to those who come in and gaze up at that medallion,” explains Father James Morgan, the cathedral’s rector. “There is the Son of God, the Messiah prophesized to come from the beginning of time through the Scriptures. Then your eyes drop from that Nativity scene down to the crucifix and the reason why he came into the world: to defeat sin and death and bring salvation for us.”

Father Morgan draws attention to the flame appearing over Joseph’s shoulder and repeating similar image on the torches on the tops of the cornices of the cathedral’s columns. It represents the incorruptible divine nature of Jesus Christ. The theme throughout is the human and divine nature of Jesus.

The new reredos emphasizes those natures. Classical in style, it showcases a life-size Jesus on a metal cross. The corpus is bronze with gold patina, and the huge plaque behind is onyx. Below, a pair of angels in relief on the tabernacle door hold a huge chalice and Host with flames around symbolizing tongues of fire of the Holy Spirit. Symbolic pelicans are carved under the altar.


Towering Edifice

The towering main arch in the sanctuary proclaims Gloria in Excelsis Deo. To one side the new marble ambo is located where it was intended by the cathedral’s original design. Its round canopy seems to float over the pulpit. The new white marble Communion rail spans the full length of the sanctuary to the shrines of Mary and Joseph on either side.

Stroik says that, surprisingly, there was never an altar original to the cathedral, only the altar brought in from the old St. Michael Cathedral predating this one. “It never had an altar designed by Masqueray or O’Gorman.” The new altar reflects “what we think Masqueray would have done.” The new altar finally original to the cathedral reflects the overall design full of arches, circles and intertwining circles and includes a baldacchino. 

“Masqueray loved baldacchinos,” Stroik says, explaining he came up with this one to have a dome over the altar on the baldacchino since Masqueray had designed a domed baldacchino for St. Paul Cathedral in Minneapolis, as well. 

The cathedral’s lines are both classic and ornate, while symbols abound. At the Marian altar, the original combination of bas relief and mural presents Mary and Gabriel the Archangel. The Ark of the Covenant appears between them as the new Ark of the Covenant is Mary’s womb. Father Morgan points out “her posture is one of great humility. On the other shrine to St. Joseph, he “has the same humble posture as Mary’s humble posture.”

There, the original restored bas relief-mural presents the dying St. Joseph with Jesus and Mary. The circle behind Jesus represents the Eucharist. The new door on the St. Joseph tabernacle is based on Masqueray’s original drawings, while the tabernacle door at Mary’s shrine altar with crown and roses is his original.

Prayer at Work

Both transepts have rose windows above triple lancets. In one, St. Joseph holds a model of this cathedral in one hand and a lily (his traditional symbol of purity) in the other. The opposite Marian rose window portrays the Blessed Virgin Mary holding the Child Jesus. To either side of Joseph and Mary, two angels with censers (containing incense) venerate them. The angels-with-censers theme repeats in several places. In the nave before entering the sanctuary on both sides, “two angels are pictured holding censers ready to incense in worship the Host between them,” Father Morgan notes. Colorful rondelles of the apostles in very high bas relief decorate the space between the arches, with vines running back and forth from imagery of vases, which, as the pastor says, are “a sign of the Gospel where Jesus said, ‘I am the vine …’ Also, the plant represents life, and the Church is life-giving.” 

Even in the bas relief carved over the cathedral’s main entry doors similar angels are depicted as worshipping Our Lord as King.

The rector draws attention to many unique decorative features, including pelicans — an ancient sign of the Eucharist because the pelican will feed its young if need be with its own flesh and blood —  repeating on the tops of the columns in the nave and sanctuary.


Another unique feature are colorful rondelles of the apostles in very high bas relief between the arches. Ten are along the nave; depictions of Peter and John are in the sanctuary. Every apostle is depicted as looking toward the altar. The arches under them are ornate in detail, and between the apostles’ images are similarly decorated depictions of huge vases. Father Morgan calls them another unique feature, as “flowing vines then come out and arch across the ceiling, the vines running back and forth from vase to vase. It’s a sign of the Gospel where Jesus said, ‘I am the vine …’ Also, the plant represents life, and the Church is life-giving.” In those plants’ images, which run across the ceiling, “there are pineapples. We see them throughout as a sign of welcome and hospitality.”

French stenciled stained-glass windows replaced the originals in 1947. Along the nave, the stained glass includes vast floral patterns that surround a trio of saints’ images in each — a tall central saint accompanied by two saints in smaller rondelles above and below. For example, one window honors St. Isaac Jogues, Teresa of Avila and Francis Xavier. In another, a smaller medallion honors Pope Pius XII, the reigning pope when the windows were installed.

The choir loft’s rose window presents Christ the King carrying a scepter. Christ is shown surrounded by stained glass rondelles presenting people of European, African, Asian and Native American descent in adoration. This cathedral, which also serves as a parish, includes the St. Josephine Bakita Community, comprised of many parishioners from East Africa.

Restoration and Renewal 

The baptismal font is again in the narthex, where it was originally located. Father Morgan points out the floor is decorated with the coat of arms of Pope Benedict XVI, because he was reigning when the cathedral was restored, and Pope Benedict XV, the pontiff when the cathedral was built.

Back in the nave, below the saints’ windows run the Stations of the Cross, which date from the time of the windows. Framed by arches, the Stations are handcrafted plaster reliefs now restored to original condition. Father Morgan highlights their realistic and intricate detail, right down to the muscles of the Roman soldiers.

Intricate details abound. Even the twin spires have the distinctive Masqueray signature look as he designed the shingles to resemble heads of grains of wheat. 

“This was farm country, growing wheat, oats, barley,” Father Morgan explains, “and he [Masqueray] wanted to tie in the prairie connection of the Mother Church to the rest of the diocese.”

Another singular and remarkable highlight of the cathedral is the Sacred Heart Chapel, used for daily Mass and for Eucharistic adoration. It has both a vaulted ceiling and baldacchino over the altar, conveying elements of both Eastern Catholic and Latin Catholic worship. 

Father Morgan says a Russian iconographer was brought in to write icons of the evangelists, the three archangels and Mother and Child. In this section are Eastern Rite crosses and an Eastern Rite-style votive candle stand. The front and sanctuary are done in Latin church style, with a wall-to-wall mural that brings together images of Mary, Joseph, John and Peter on one side, along with imagery of saints who had a devotion to the Eucharist or Sacred Heart. Christ is, of course, presented in the center, depicted in his Second Coming.

Because the cathedral is built on one of the city’s highest hills and is a local, cultural and religious landmark, it is a beacon of faith rising high above the Big Sioux River, beckoning all to Ite ad Cathedrali Sancti Ioseph — Go to the Cathedral of St. Joseph.

a young parishioner prays inside St. Thomas Catholic Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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