Raleigh cathedral opening off to strong start

The growth of the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, which has gone from 133,000 Catholics 20 years ago to nearly a quarter-million Catholics today, was reflected dramatically last July in the opening of Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral. Raleigh’s previous cathedral, Sacred Heart, built in 1924, was the smallest in the continental United States, seating just 320. At 44,000 square feet with seating for 2,000, Holy Name is now among the nation’s largest. In the last six months, it has begun serving the needs of Raleigh’s Catholics with better than expected results, according to diocesan officials.

“Our opening has gone extremely well, with many of our Masses having standing room only,” said Father Justin Kerber, the cathedral’s rector. “We’ve been busy with confessions as well. I’ve had to get retired priests to come in and help.”

Groundbreaking for Holy Name occurred in 2015 with Raleigh’s previous bishop, Michael F. Burbidge (transferred to Arlington, Virginia, in 2016), declaring the diocese’s intention to build “a place where the faithful will be enlightened with the Word of God; nourished with the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, and a place where they will leave renewed as members of God’s family sent forth to do his work.”

Holy Name is one of two major Southern cathedrals opening within the span of a year. The Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Diocese of Knoxville is slated for dedication on March 3.

More than 26,000 donors contributed to build Holy Name, and the cathedral begins operations completely paid for.

“Bishop Burbidge told us that although we needed a new cathedral, he was not going to put the diocese into debt, nor was he going to make cuts to our charitable works or social ministries to pay for it,” Father Kerber said.

The cathedral capital campaign raised $70 million, $45.7 million of which was used to build the cathedral. Most of the remainder was returned to parishes for their use.

Land around the cathedral is available for additional structures and facilities to be built in the future, including a church hall, school, gymnasium and athletic field.

Previous site

The cathedral was built on a site that was once an orphanage, purchased by Servant of God Father Thomas Price (1860-1919) and his sister, Mercy Sister Mary Agnes. Father Price is an important figure in the diocese’s history; the diocesan phase for his sainthood cause began in 2012. Father Price was a zealous priest who traveled about North Carolina in horse and buggy in an effort to make “every Tar Heel a Catholic.” He also founded the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, which became the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers.

The site would later become home to the administrative offices for the diocese and the location of Cardinal Gibbons High School. Also notable about the site is its location near the old and new campuses of North Carolina State University, enabling the new cathedral to be an effective evangelization tool among students.

Design significance

The cathedral was designed by James O’Brien of O’Brien & Keane Architecture after input from parishioners throughout the diocese. A cruciform style church was selected, O’Brien said, because “the cross is the symbol of church; it is through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross that we are redeemed.”

Elements of the interior include the cathedra, or bishop’s chair, set off to the left of the altar (when facing the altar), with the ambo on the right. Prominently carved into the altar is the Christogram IHS, Greek lettering that is an abbreviation for the name of Jesus, which, according to O’Brien, is “recognition of the cathedral’s dedication to the Holy Name of Jesus.”

Bishops, a cathedral and a Virginia basilica
Bishop Burbidge
Bishop Zarama
Only a month after its dedication, Raleigh’s new Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral hosted the installation of the diocese’s new bishop, Bishop Luis R. Zarama, formerly an auxiliary bishop of Atlanta.

Twenty-four columns surround the tabernacle area, representing the 12 elders and 12 Apostles dressed in white with golden crowns (from Revelation); the seven decorative lighting fixtures between the columns represent the seven burning torches.

The dome above the sanctuary is among the cathedral’s most significant features, O’Brien said. The origin of the word “dome” is from the Latin domus, meaning home, and is in the cathedral signifying “this is the home of the diocese where you gather in union with the whole Church under the leadership of the bishop to encounter Our Lord in the Word and in the Sacrament.”

The sunlight that travels through windows on the side of the dome “represents the union of heaven and earth.”

Timothy Mann, co-chair of the cathedral’s planning committee, said one of his favorite features was on the baldacchino (canopy over the altar) on which has been painted the star configuration that would have been in the sky Easter Sunday morning 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem, when Christ rose from the dead. He explained, “A Chapel Hill astronomer, who was also a devout Catholic, offered to calculate for us where these star positions would be.”

More to come

While the cathedral has been completed and is open weekends for Mass, there is more to be done, said Father Kerber. A large organ containing 3,737 pipes will soon be installed, which will take an estimated eight months. Groundbreaking for a parish hall and gymnasium will occur in the upcoming months, with more buildings likely to follow. To date, $2.5 million has been raised for these new buildings, Father Kerber said, aided by larger than expected collections during cathedral Masses.

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Roads to and from the cathedral have yet to be built, and he also hopes to soon begin a formal tour program, as he’s already received requests for tours.

“We’ve been very pleased with how the construction and opening of the cathedral has gone; I can say it’s exceeded our expectations,” Father Kerber said. “We’re especially grateful to the faithful for their generosity in making all this happen.”

Jim Graves writes from California.