Saint Raphael's Cathedral (Madison, Wisconsin)

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Coordinates: 43°04′20.26″N 89°23′10.48″W / 43.0722944°N 89.3862444°W / 43.0722944; -89.3862444

St. Raphael's in 2006, with a new tower

Saint Raphael's Cathedral parish is the Cathedral parish for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Madison and was located in downtown Madison, Wisconsin at 222 West Main Street. In March 2005, the Cathedral building located at 204 West Main Street was heavily damaged in a fire and was demolished. The parish community remains active, and intends to rebuild the cathedral.[1] As of October 2015, no plans had been announced for the rebuilding.[1] In late 2012, the diocese constructed a park on the site, called Cathedral Square or Cathedral Place featuring a Way of the Cross.[1][2][3]


In the early 1840s, immigrants from Ireland settled in what would later become Madison. They were soon organized into a parish named after the Archangel Raphael. On August 15, 1842, Father Martin Kundig offered Mass for the first time. Governor James Duane Doty, a close friend of Father Samuel Mazzuchelli donated the land upon which the parish buildings and a later parking lot would be built.

From 1842 until 1853, the parish did not have a church and often celebrated Mass in homes and in the state capitol. In 1853, Father Francis Etchmann began constructing the most recent church building. The cornerstone was laid on May 28, 1854 by Bishop John Henni of the Diocese of Milwaukee. He dedicated the new building because the parish was under his jurisdiction at the time.[4] The spire and bells were added in 1885.[5]

On January 9, 1946, Pope Pius XII created the Diocese of Madison for an 11-county area in the southwestern part of the state. Territory was taken from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the Diocese of La Crosse to form the new diocese.[6] St. Raphael's was then chosen as the Cathedral Parish for the Madison diocese. At the time of the parish's elevation to a cathedral, Msgr. William Mahoney was the pastor.

Cathedral fire[edit]

St. Raphael's undergoing de-construction in 2008

On March 14, 2005, a fire caused extensive damage to St. Raphael's Cathedral, affecting not only those who attended the church, but the entire diocesan community.[7]

The fire caused the roof to collapse into the building, although the walls and steeple remained standing. There was further damage from the water and fears that the refurbished steeple would collapse, although the steeple was found to be stable in the days following the fire. The mosaics sustained smoke and water damage, and the stained glass windows were damaged but still in place.

The cause of the fire was determined to be arson. Forty-one-year-old William J. "Billy" Connell was arrested for setting the fire and charged with burglary, arson, and bail jumping. Connell said that he had broken into the Cathedral using a crowbar, stole a bottle of wine, and then "messed around with some stuff". The fire started in an office/storeroom under the spire, and the crowbar was found in that room.[7] Connell had a history of mental problems, and had previously been in trouble with the law. Connell was sentenced to 15 years in prison to be followed by 15 years of close supervision.[8]

On June 10, 2007, Bishop Morlino announced his intention to have the structure demolished and replaced with a new and larger church capable of seating 1,000 people.[9] The Diocese of Madison announced on March 13, 2008, that St. Raphael's would be demolished by June of that year and that some items from the old Cathedral would be saved, including the spire, the three bells from the steeple, three mosaics from the sanctuary, the marble sanctuary appointments, one large undamaged stained glass window, three smaller undamaged semicircular stained glass windows, some ornamental stonework from around the doorways, and some other stone from the building.[10] The demolition plan sparked debate among some in the city who felt portions of the structure should be preserved or declared a landmark.[11]

When demolition of the structure began, Bishop Morlino stated that the diocese would wait at least one year after the demolition before it began fundraising or planning for a new sanctuary.[12] On July 1, 2008, the parish of St. Raphael merged with the nearby parishes of St. Patrick and Holy Redeemer churches to form a new Cathedral Parish of St. Raphael. The parish will be housed in facilities of the two churches until the new cathedral is built.[13]

On June 24, 2011, the parish purchased the structure it built in 1962 to house St. Raphael's School from 1963 until it closed in 1970.[14] The parish demolished the building and in late 2012 created a park across the entire property featuring a Way of the Cross.[2][3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Schneider, Pat (October 5, 2015). "Madison homeless advocates ask Catholic Diocese to allow camp on former cathedral site". The Capital Times. Retrieved 13 October 2015.
  2. ^ a b "Photos: Summer day at Cathedral Place in downtown Madison". The Capital Times. July 10, 2014. Retrieved 13 October 2015.
  3. ^ a b Trevelen, Ed (November 5, 2014). "St. Raphael Cathedral property not tax exempt for 2013, judge rules". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved 13 October 2015.
  4. ^ Uhler, Mary C. (September 16, 2004). "Cathedral Marks 150th anniversary of laying of cornerstone". The Catholic Herald. Madison. Retrieved 2011-12-30.
  5. ^ Uhler, Mary C. (30 September 2004). "New Spire to Crown St. Raphael Cathedral in Madison". The Catholic Herald. Retrieved 2011-12-30.
  6. ^ "History & Statistics". Diocese of Madison. Retrieved 2011-12-31.
  7. ^ a b Nornberg, Julianne (March 24, 2005). "Cathedral fire: Result of Arson". The Catholic Herald. Retrieved 2011-12-30.
  8. ^ Trelven, Ed (June 12, 2007). "Church Arsonist Gets 15 Years Judge Says Schizophrenic Man Is A Threat To The Public". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved 2011-12-30.
  9. ^ Uhler, Mary C. (14 June 2007). "Cathedral to be rebuilt downtown". The Catholic Herald. Retrieved 2011-12-30.
  10. ^ "Mark third anniversary of cathedral fire quietly with prayer; have great hope for the future". The Catholic Herald. March 14, 2008. Retrieved 2018-08-17.
  11. ^ Mosiman, Dean (3 May 2008). "A Debate on the Ruins of the Cathedral". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved 2011-12-30.
  12. ^ Stein, Jason (4 June 2008). "St. Raphael Demolition Starts With Gold Cross". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved 2011-12-30.
  13. ^ Kat Wagner (28 June 2008). "Downtown Parishes Merge". The Catholic Herald. Retrieved 2011-12-30.
  14. ^ Erickson, Doug (3 July 2011). "St. Raphael parish buys back old school for new cathedral". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved 2011-12-30.

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