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Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception 1970
By Randy Harter
Fort Wayne Reader
In 1831, just a year after the incorporation of the Village of Fort Wayne, the southwest acre of today’s Cathedral Square, formally a Miami Indian burial grounds, was purchased by the then very small local Catholic community for the purpose of building a church. By 1837 a 35 by 65 foot log structure called St. Augustine’s had been completed under the direction of the first resident pastor, Reverend Louis Mueller, who had arrived in Fort Wayne in 1836. Over the ensuing years, additional grounds were secured until the church had acquired the entire block bounded by Jefferson, Clinton, Lewis and Calhoun streets.
The Cathedral Square as we know it today substantially began its current form with the arrival of the second Catholic pastor, French-born Reverend Julian Benoit, in 1840. When the Diocese of Fort Wayne was created by Pope Pius IX in 1857, Benoit moved the St. Augustine church building to the east side of the block and initiated the fundraising that would lead to the cornerstone being laid for the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception by Bishop John Luers on June 19, 1859 on the original site of the old church.
Dedicated 18 months later on December 8, 1860, the 180 x 80 foot double-spired church, rising 200 feet above street level, was the largest such structure in the state of Indiana. Designed by Benoit and the contractor Thomas Lau, the church was built of red brick trimmed with gray sandstone at a cost of $54,000. Over the years the building has undergone a number of renovations, most noticeably from the outside, the sheathing of the entire brick church in 1950 with white Lannon stone quarried in Wisconsin. It was also at this time that the Diocesan Chancery and the MacDougal Memorial Chapel were built on the space formally occupied by St. Augustine’s Academy (northwest corner) and Library Hall/Central Catholic Boys High School (southwest corner), respectively.
A number of church officials are buried in a crypt below the high alter. Those include Reverend Benoit and Right Reverends John Luers, Joseph Dwenger, Joseph Rademacher, Herman Alerding, and Bishop John D’Arcy. While the exact location has been lost to history, it is believed that Miami Chief Jean Baptiste de Richardville (1761 – 1841) is also interned somewhere on the property.
The oldest church building still in use in the Fort Wayne area, the Cathedral is now over 150 years old and was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. (Image courtesy ACPL)
Randy Harter is a Fort Wayne historian, author and history/architecture guide for Fort Wayne Food Tours.