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These U.S. cathedrals are the perfect pilgrimage destinations for the Year of St. Joseph

We might not have Lourdes, Fátima, Loreto or other famous destinations in the United States, but we are in that unique and opportune point in history where we are carving out our own religious traditions for generations ahead of us to repeat. The Year of St. Joseph is also a year we are all itching to get out of our houses. My suggestion: make a pilgrimage. When plagues struck, the saints visited the great shrines of Europe. It was, after all, a pilgrimage to Jerusalem that the Holy Family made when Jesus was 12 years old.

Pope Francis wrote in Patris Corde, “I consider St. Joseph the special patron of all those forced to leave their native lands because of war, hatred, persecution and poverty” (No. 5). In its own way, the history of the United States includes aspects of this harsh and sobering reality. Therefore, inspired by the words of Pope Francis, I have gathered the multifold cathedral churches, west to east, of which are consecrated to the care, intercession and memory of the worker, the husband of Mary, St. Joseph.

Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph | San Jose, California

Cardinal of St. Joseph San Jose

Adobe Stock

With roots dating to 1803, the original church here was a pueblo structure made of mud clay and wood. After several iterations, which were burned by fires or damaged by earthquakes, a marvelous church was completed in 1885. In 1981 the Vatican established the Diocese of San Jose, and the church became the cathedral. It was named a minor basilica in 1997. The city of St. Joseph appropriately also named its cathedral his honor. The interior and ceiling of this feel massive and are equally inspiring with its hues of warm, bright, buttery yellow, and the organ dates to the church’s completion.

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St. Joseph Cathedral | San Diego, California

St. Joseph Cathedral San Diego

Wikimedia Creative Commons

This historic church was founded as a parish in 1874 from land donated by local real estate developer Alonzo Horton. When the Diocese of San Diego was established in 1936, this church became the cathedral. The population doubled in the parish within just a couple years, and when the church caught fire and could not be contained, a much larger church was built over the site, and grade by grade, a school was established. Although quite new, the cathedral is built in the style of the many mission churches in the area with Mexican-Spanish style architecture and a thin, wooden beam exposed ceiling, making it a neat historic church among many in the hills of sunny San Diego.

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Cathedral of St. Joseph | St. Joseph, Missouri

Missouri Cathedral

Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph

The settlement of Joseph Robidoux on the Missouri River was a frequent stop to Jesuit missionaries in the 19th century. Masses would be celebrated at his log cabin. A chapel was erected in the new town of St. Joseph, named after Robidoux’s patron, and pastored by the newly ordained Irishman, Father Thomas Scanlan. A later dedication of the church by Bishop Kenrick of St. Louis on June 17, 1847, gave it the name of St. Joseph’s Church. It became a diocesan cathedral in 1868. The cathedral of St. Joseph we see today was started in 1869 and slowly finished in 1889. Pope Pius XII merged the St. Joseph diocese with the diocese Kansas City, making this church a co-cathedral. The banks of St. Joseph are truly the gates to the expansion of Catholicism upward and westward in the United States.

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Cathedral of St. Joseph | Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Sioux Falls Cathedral

Forestwalton/Wikimedia Creative Commons

This well-loved cathedral church has an amazing history. Much like the Cathedral of St. Joseph of St. Joseph, Missouri, the exploratory missionaries traveling up and down the Missouri River also celebrated Mass in the Dakotas. St. Michael’s parish of Sioux Falls, established in 1881, was the first Catholic parish in the area, and it was here that a larger brick structure was built. It became the Pro-Cathedral of Bishop Martin Marty, who was vicar apostolic of the Dakota Territory. When Pope Leo XIII established the Diocese of Sioux Falls in 1889, St. Michael’s became the cathedral for the new diocese. Bishop Thomas O’Gorman, who succeeded Bishop Marty, attended the dedication of the Cathedral of St. Paul in 1915 and was inspired to hire the same architect to build his cathedral for Sioux Falls. Construction of the new cathedral was begun in 1915, which was slowed during World War I and completed in 1919. Among the many gorgeous churches in the Midwest, this one truly stands out. Not to mention, travelers are welcomed into one of the most friendly towns in the United States.

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Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman | La Crosse, Wisconsin

La Crosse Cathedral

Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman/Facebook

The parish church of St. Joseph, dedicated in 1870, was originally made for the German-speaking Catholic members of La Crosse. In 1868 the diocese of La Crosse was established, and the first bishop of La Crosse, Bishop Michael Heiss, chose St. Joseph’s to be the cathedral parish. In 1956 Bishop John P. Treacy announced the building of a new cathedral. The new cathedral, built over the original, is a contemporary interpretation of the gothic architecture of the original cathedral church. It was given the title of St. Joseph the Workman, in honor of the new feast of St. Joseph established by Pope Pius XII in 1955 to be celebrated each year on May 1. If you’re in or passing through the upper Midwest, be sure to see this I-94 treasure.

Patron of the Universal Church

Public domain


On Dec. 8, 2020, the Church celebrated 150 years since Blessed Pope Pius IX declared St. Joseph to be patron of the universal Church. In Quemadmodum Deus, the Sacred Congregation of Rites promulgated the following decree:

“Because of this sublime dignity which God conferred on his most faithful servant, the Church has always most highly honored and praised blessed Joseph next to his spouse, the Virgin Mother of God, and has besought his intercession in times of trouble.

“And now therefore, when in these most troublesome times the Church is beset by enemies on every side, and is weighed down by calamities so heavy that ungodly men assert that the gates of hell have at length prevailed against her, the venerable prelates of the whole Catholic world have presented to the Sovereign Pontiff their own petitions and those of the faithful committed to their charge, praying that he would deign to constitute St. Joseph Patron of the Church. …

“Accordingly, it has now pleased our Most Holy Sovereign, Pope Pius IX, in order to entrust himself and all the faithful to the Patriarch St. Joseph’s most powerful patronage, has chosen to comply with the prelates’ desire and has solemnly declared him Patron of the Catholic Church.”

Over 150 years later, these words ring true today. St. Joseph, pray for us!

Cathedral of St. Joseph | Wheeling, West Virginia

Wheeling Cathedral

Cathedral of St. Joseph/Facebook

As the oldest of Wheeling Catholic parishes, the church has roots going back to 1822 and became the cathedral in 1850 when Pope Pius IX created the diocese. The parish church of St. James, the diocese’s new seat of the bishop, was re-named to honor St. Joseph, a growing patron of devotion in the world, especially to workers movements. A new cathedral was being planned when the structure was partially destroyed in a 1923 fire. These serendipitous circumstances paved the way for a new cathedral, as it stands today, dedicated in 1926. If you’ve dreamed of visiting the massive churches of Lombardy, Italy, this is the pilgrimage site for you. Huge, it’s cupola dome rises 148 feet, and the rest of the Romanesque style is gripping on the conscience of Catholics who enter its grand doors.

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St. Joseph’s Old Cathedral | Oklahoma City

Cathedral Oklahoma City

CNS via Reuters

Few know, but this beautiful red brick church was extensively damaged in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Its enduring legacy dates back to 1904, replacing the tattered and outgrown wooden church building on the same lot. In 1905, Pope St. Pius X created the Diocese of Oklahoma City, and this church became the cathedral until 1931, when a nearby church was selected for the seat of the bishop. After the bombing, the church was unsafe and closed for two years for repairs. A statue of Italian marble reading “And Jesus wept” was placed in the downtown memorial. Shortly after the statue was dedicated, the church rededicated and reopened in 1996. The 650-pound bell of the single Gothic Revival tower is the original bell from the wooden church, purchased and hoisted to position in 1889.

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St. Joseph Cathedral | Columbus, Ohio

St. Joseph Cathedral Columbus

Nheyob/Wikimedia Creative Commons

Gothic Revival at its best, the church in Columbus, Ohio, is picturesque amid a bustling downtown scene. The church is stunning from the outside, and the interior delivers inspiration to Catholics who enter. Altars were carved from the same marble quarry used to adorn St. Patrick’s in New York. It was built in 1866 and became the cathedral two years later with the installation of Sylvester Rosecrans as its first bishop. After consecrating the cathedral, which was not yet fully decorated, on October 20, 1878, Rosecrans died the next day. Among American cathedrals and churches that honor the husband of Mary, this one stands out with a marvelous organ, beautiful architectural style and a handsome altar canopy.

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Cathedral of St. Joseph | Jefferson City, Missouri

Jeff City Cathedral

Farragutful/Wikimedia Creative Commons

With groundbreaking and completion after Vatican II, in 1967 and 1968 respectively, this is a modern cathedral. Notwithstanding this, it definitely presents modern church architecture with reverence. The entire massive structure is supported with no inner-pillars, creating an enormous environment for worship. The Blessed Sacrament Chapel’s altar contains relics of Sts. Clement, Irenaeus and Liberatus. Although a modern cathedral, the design follows the ancient tradition of a near-entrance sacristy for solemn processions and a baptistery bathed in natural light with nearby ambry. Absolutely worthy of any pilgrim’s journey.

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St. Joseph’s Pro-Cathedral | Camden, New Jersey

Camden Cathedral

podrozniczka60/TripAdvisor

A pro-cathedral is a parish church that is temporarily serving as the cathedral or co-cathedral of the diocese. This is the case with the cathedral in Camden, New Jersey. Admittedly not the most stunning church the area has to offer, there is something beautiful about its humility. Despite this, the pro-cathedral has Franciscan mission roots going back to the late-19th century, a history worthy of our preservation and respect. In the Year of St. Joseph, much like the biblical father we know little about and who said even less, our minds should be more focused on the meaning of these sites, than their aesthetic qualities. If you’re in the area, be sure to make this pilgrimage.

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Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph | Brooklyn, New York

Brooklyn Cathedral

Wikimedia Creative Commons

A brilliant church to visit on pilgrimage, St. Joseph’s co-cathedral has head turning curb appeal and interior décor that visitors will not forget. Founded in 1851 to address the growing immigrant Catholic population, this eighth parish of Brooklyn was elevated in 2014 as a co-cathedral to the much older Basilica of St. James, once again for its sheer size and ability to host larger liturgies. The interior is rich with art featuring bright stained glass, jade marble columns, and amazing mosaics throughout the dome and apse. When you stand in this cathedral, you get an instant sense that you are standing on tradition.

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St. Joseph Cathedral | Buffalo, New York

Buffalo Cathedral

Adobe Stock

Another Gothic Revival treasure, this is one American pilgrims cannot miss. As beautiful as it is, it was actually not meant to be the cathedral for Buffalo. In 1902 it was decided that a new cathedral church was needed. Land was purchased, and a design was created and then constructed. Although this “new” cathedral was larger and more grand than the previous “old” cathedral, it was a very poor design for the harsh winters of the lake region. The maintenance costs could not be upkept, and even after the double spires were removed, the diocese could no longer support the facility and it was demolished. The Old Cathedral of St. Joseph was re-named the diocesan seat in 1977. A landmark of the city, the history alone is worth visiting. But pilgrims are treated to the wonderful interior of a heavenly rose window, stained glass and an organ with 3,627 pipes. The exterior, too, is difficult to contend with in terms of appeal.

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Cathedral of St. Joseph | Hartford, Connecticut

Hartford Cathedral

Dvdlm/Wikimedia Creative Commons

The mother church of the Diocese of Hartford could not be more eye-catching. The single limestone spire stands 281 feet tall, just meters short of the Statue of Liberty. The previous structure was just as impressive, with two massive spires. Sadly, it caught fire in 1956 and could not be salvaged. The site was cleared and the new church was completed in 1962. The interior now is a lavish take on modern-meets-traditional — a mesmerizingly unique church for pilgrims to visit.

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Cathedral of St. Joseph | Manchester, New Hampshire

Manchester Cathedral

AlexiusHoratius/Wikimedia Creative Commons

Founded in 1869 for the masses of Irish immigrants in the area, Leo XIII established a diocese here 15 years later. Built just in time for the liturgical forms for Vatican II, some items were removed, reconfigured or replaced in the adjustment years. Currently, the interior is undergoing a phased restoration and updating, of which the altar is complete. The space is brighter and more vivid, and yet retains a classic touch of tradition.

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Cathedral of St. Joseph | Burlington, Vermont

Burlington Cathedral

Arminnius/Wikimedia Creative Commons

As a parish, this was the first French Canadian church in the United States. St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church was originally founded in 1850 to minister to the large population of French-speaking Catholic immigrants in the area. The current building was designed by a self-taught architect who was also a priest from Montreal. If that’s not impressive enough, he used the chapel from the Versailles Palace as his inspiration, giving this cathedral completed in 1887 a very special architectural expression. Today, they still have Masses in French — a compelling reason to make pilgrimage to this special church.

Any of these, or a string of them if you are able, are excellent choices for a short pilgrimage during the Year of St. Joseph.

Shaun McAfee writes from Italy.

Celebrating the Year of St. Joseph
Whether or not you are able to visit any of these cathedrals, remember the indulgence available to the faithful until Dec. 8, 2021. Along with the obligation of the three constants — confession, receiving holy Communion and praying for the pope’s intentions — Catholics are granted a plenary indulgence if they meditate on the Lord’s Prayer, recite the Litany to St. Joseph, or for those who make a one-day retreat in meditation of St. Joseph.

For more information on how to celebrate the Year of St. Joseph, visit catholicyearof.com.

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