CORPUS CHRISTI CATHEDRAL
CORPUS CHRISTI CATHEDRAL. There was no Catholic church in Corpus Christi until 1855, though the name of the bay and subsequently the city was derived from the Catholic Spanish. Mass and other services were at times conducted at the home of Richard Powers at the corner of Broadway at Lipan, the future site of Corpus Christi Cathedral. Father Bernard O'Reilly was the first resident pastor assigned to Corpus Christi in 1853. By the end of that year, work on a church had begun at a location on Tancahua Street, about two blocks northwest of the present cathedral. By 1855 services were being held in the incomplete building, which was finished in 1857. O'Reilly wrote in 1856 that his congregation consisted of nineteen families and that he paid $5,000, and still owed $1,400, for the church. Because of the Irish origins of some of these families, as well as of Father O'Reilly himself, the church was called St. Patrick's. According to an observer of the time, the church was a rectangular adobe structure forty feet long and almost forty feet wide. A small belfry rose from the middle of the façade; the roof was slightly vaulted for the entire length. Solid board shutters covered rectangular, plain glass windows. Above the front entrance were a small portico and a wooden cross. In the gloomy interior were the sacramental and worship accoutrements: confessional, baptismal font, two rows of pews, communion rail, altar, north wing for the sacristy. A south wing for the sisters' chapel was built after the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament came to Corpus Christi in 1871.
Dominic Manucy, first vicar apostolic of Brownsville, moved to Corpus Christi from Brownsville in 1875. He described St. Patrick's as "a small church that is tumbling down" and solicited funds from residents and from the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. Work on a new church, a frame building on Carancahua Street, began in 1880; services were held in late 1882. Completion of the church was aided by donations of time and labor by the architect-builder, Charles Carroll. The old church was reportedly torn down in 1882. The Vicariate Apostolic of Brownsville was elevated to the rank of a diocese, taking the name of the see city, Corpus Christi, with St. Patrick's as the cathedral. Paul Nussbaum served as the first bishop from 1913 until his resignation in 1920. Pope Benedict XV appointed Emmanuel B. Ledvina to succeed Nussbaum in 1921. Due to Ledvina's illness, in 1936 Pius XII named Mariano S. Garriga diocesan coadjutor. The bishops began a fund drive for the building of a new cathedral. A site at Upper Broadway and Lipan streets known as City Bluff, overlooking Corpus Christi Bay, was donated by the John G. Kenedy, Jr., family. An old Kenedy family home on the property was moved to allow for construction. Ground was broken on March 1, 1939. The cornerstone was laid on March 1, 1940; on July 17, Corpus Christi Cathedral was dedicated.
The building is 176 feet long and 90 feet wide; it rests on 18 feet of reinforced concrete footings. The construction is of reinforced concrete, structural steel, and solid masonry brick walls eighteen inches thick. C. L. Monnot of Oklahoma was architect of the Spanish Mission-style structure. The roof of red Spanish clay tile is surmounted by two asymmetrical tower domes, 125 feet and 97 feet in height, of glazed terra-cotta. The three bells of the old cathedral were transferred to the shorter tower; the taller holds a thirty-two-bell carillon and has a clock in each of its four walls. Three copper doors lead from the Upper Broadway street frontage into the narthex, or vestibule, which has a Saltillo tile floor. On the right as one faces the interior of the church is a shrine to St. Anthony of Padua; on the left, to the Sorrowful Mother. Both statues are of Italian Carrara marble. Walls of gray Carthage veinless marble reach to the ornamental plaster cornice surrounding the ceiling. The nave has a distinctive ceiling studded with heavy oak beams. Around the nave is a four-foot-high wainscot of cream-colored Tavernelle Clair marble, capped and based with verde antique marble from Maryland. The floor is cream-colored terrazzo, bordered with ecclesiastical-design Spanish tile. An open choir at the rear overlooks the nave. Left of the main aisle are a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. Twelve Corinthian columns represent the twelve apostles. A communion rail of hand-wrought iron and white Alabama marble separates the nave from the sanctuary. At the north end of the rail is the pulpit, with body of cream Tavernelle and base and cap of verde antique. At the opposite end is the baptismal font of green marble, ringed with clover leaves-a tribute to the church's Irish history. The sanctuary is flanked by the priests' sacristy on the south and the servers' sacristy on the north. The right-side altar is dedicated to St. Joseph, the left to the Virgin Mary. Statues of St. Patrick and St. Thérèse of Lisieux stand in the upper rear of the sanctuary. Artist Emil Frei executed the stained-glass windows (the upper row portraying Eucharistic motifs, the lower depicting devotional acts) and the glass Stations of the Cross along the nave walls. A crypt, Emmanuel Chapel, was built in the basement below the main altar for the burial of the bishops and remodeled in 1985. Bishops Nussbaum, Ledvina, and Garriga are buried there. Total cost of the building and appointments at the time of construction was about $425,000. Capacity of the cathedral when built was said to be 1,100 persons; it is now reported to be 2,000.
The last Mass was said in the old cathedral-for Charles Carroll, its architect-on February 8, 1951, by diocesan chancellor Adolph Marx, the last priest to be ordained there. Dismantling of the building began in 1951. The name of the church was passed on to a new St. Patrick's parish established shortly after the new cathedral.
In 1978 a man with a history of mental problems attacked the sanctuary of Corpus Christi Cathedral, damaging the tabernacle, the candelabra, and the ten-foot marble statues of Mary and Joseph. In 1988 renovations to the cathedral included alterations in the apse, conversion of a room above the main sacristy into a pontifical sacristy, and construction of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. The chapel was designed by historical architect James G. Rome, and seats twenty-four. There are now three chapels in the building. The cathedral was recorded as a state historic landmark in 1991. Although its distinctive façade can still be seen from Corpus Christi Bay, the cathedral is now surrounded by the city's business district. In 1953 the cathedral parish claimed 536 families as parishioners. In mid-1994, that figure was 950 families.
Corpus Christi Times, July 16, 1940. James Talmadge Moore, Through Fire and Flood: The Catholic Church in Frontier Texas, 1836–1900 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1992). Sister Mary Xavier, A Century of Sacrifice: The History of the Cathedral Parish, Corpus Christi, Texas, 1853–1953 (Corpus Christi, 1953).