After nearly 20 years without a cathedral, the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, announced on Wednesday that the Holy See approved one of its parishes to become a new cathedral site.

Bishop Donald J. Hying selected a local parish, St. Bernard, to be the future cathedral parish of the Diocese of Madison. 

“I would say throughout the diocese, I think there is a lot of happiness, a lot of excitement, especially knowing that our previous cathedral we lost to arson back in 2005,” Father Michael Radowicz, St. Bernard’s pastor, told CNA on Wednesday. 

“So we really haven’t had a diocesan home in these 18 years,” he continued. “So this is a big step forward for the diocese and certainly is an honor for the parish to be named the cathedral.”

An arson fire destroyed the diocese’s cathedral, St. Raphael Cathedral Parish, in March 2005. St. Raphael was designated a cathedral when Madison was made a diocese in 1946, with the cornerstone of the parish having been laid in 1854. 

Since the arson, local parishes have taken turns hosting important events. With St. Bernard’s as the newly established cathedral, the diocese will be able to host priestly ordinations, the annual chrism Mass, and other events. 

“The [local parishes] functioned fine, but you just had this longing, knowing that this really wasn’t home,” Radowicz said. “I call it our sojourn in the desert, waiting for that time in which either a new cathedral would be built or an existing parish would be named the cathedral. So I think it’s really going to be joyful for the people to really have a home that they can call their diocesan home once again.”

Rather than building a new cathedral on the existing site, the diocese decided to petition the Holy See to name an existing parish as the new cathedral. The move is part of the diocesan Into the Deep program, where 102 parishes will become 30 pastorates by 2024 in an effort to use diocesan resources more efficiently.

St. Bernard Church is currently being renovated before its elevation to cathedral status.

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“St. Bernard was very well designed as a parish church, but of course, now the needs of the church are going to change a bit,” Radowicz said. “In terms of logistics, in terms of sanctuary size, seating, music, all of that. So we’re able to address all of those concerns with this renovation, as well as to ornament the space appropriately, for certainly a lot less than it would be to construct a whole new building.”

“We’re actually going back to the way the church was originally constructed and ornamented in 1927,” Radowicz added. “So a lot of the features of the apse are going to be identical to the way that the church was when it opened in 1927.”

Radowicz pointed out that a cathedral parish “is the parish of the bishop, so it is the place where the bishop’s cathedra is, so it is the central place of his teaching office.” 

“It is also the center of diocesan liturgical worship,” the priest added. “So all of our major Masses and liturgies of the liturgical year are held in the cathedral, of course, the pinnacle of that being Masses of ordination for new priests and new deacons.”

This is not the first renovation the parish has undergone, Radowicz noted. 

“We’ve done a number of small renovations over the years, and we kind of turned the space from how your typical church was in the 1980s to a setting that’s more appropriate for the gothic construction of the building,” he said. 

“And I really feel as though those projects really helped our people to see how beautiful our space could become. And now, with this opportunity, it’s really going to be coming full circle for us.”

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Before St. Bernard’s was selected to become a cathedral, Radowicz shared that the parish had another renovation well underway.

“We were planning to install two E.M. Skinner pipe organs, a 50-rank organ in the choir loft, and then a small 10-rank organ in the east transept,” he said.

“But I think there’s also a lot of excitement in having those instruments installed, especially the large instrument. It’s a pre-World War I instrument, and there’s only three or four like it in the entire country. So, we are going to be very excited to have one of those instruments fully restored and ready for liturgical worship.”

Radowicz said the diocese expects the remodeled cathedral parish to be ready by late summer or early fall of 2025.