History of the Co-Cathedral 1896-2009

Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart
A History in Tandem With Houston

By 1890, Houston's population was a just a little over 27,500, land for the Port of Houston had formally been acquired, and during the years that followed Houston saw its first electric streetcars and electricity flowed through much of the downtown area (though air conditioning was still a ways to come).  The year 1892 then saw the election of the devout Irish Catholic mayor John Thomas Browne, who was heavily involved with the local area Knights of Columbus and a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and Mr. Browne would serve Houston as mayor until that instrumental year 1896.  On November 22nd of 1896 The Most Reverend Nicholas A. Gallagher, third Bishop of Galveston, had established Sacred Heart Parish as the fourth parish in Houston, Texas to serve the growing Catholic population of Houston.  While Sacred Heart was established on paper, the need for building of the Parish moved along at a rapid pace - a fact owed in no small part to the population explosion that occurred during the latter half of the 19th century and electrical services offered to so many.

For a sense of size of the city of Houston at the time, imagine this: the area now known as The Heights had become the first real suburb of the city, residing on the opposite side of the bayou from downtown Houston and whose construction by Oscar Martin Carter - and the only reason it was built was partially contingent on being able to deliver electric street car service to downtown.  A drive down Yale or Washington today, inclusive of Studemont and so forth, and one can see signs of where these first staples of Houston mass transit were.  When one stops to think of the size of the city in the modern era, many may find the notion of The Heights being considered a distant suburb somewhat comical.  However, at the time, Houston's size was such that The Heights was the first truly master-planned suburban community: they also bucked the trend of streets being laid out in Houston to true North-South (as downtown Houston is) and altered the layout by six degrees, a plan followed by most of the city since.

By March of 1897, the property on the corner of Fannin and Pierce streets had been purchased by the Bishop of Galveston and architect Ollie J. Lorehn was tasked to design the Sacred Heart.  Many Houstonians today may not understand the significance of hiring Mr. Lorehn, much less who he was.  Mr. Lorehn was instrumental in building many significant landmark buildings in Houston, and some of his designs are still with us today.  Mr. Lorehn's buildings from that era include the still-functioning 1417 Congress as well as what is now known as the Dakota Lofts at 711 Williams Street.  Sadly, his most notable secular work (the original Binz Building that occupied 513-519 Main Street) was demolished and replaced.  The importance of Mr. Lorehn's work was such that his original Binz Building was the first "skyscraper" of Houston - standing at six stories at the corner interchange for electric rail cars, it marked Houston as no longer some small backwater bayou town.  Indeed, the city of Houston had now truly arrived, and a parish was needed to embrace the growing number of Catholics who had likewise arrived in Houston to be a part of its growth into the 20th Century.  Thus, it was fitting that the Bishop of Galveston, in his wisdom, selected Mr. Ollie Lorehn - a man who was known in his time for merging traditional architecture with modern flare and who was himself the founding father of Houston's architectural heritage.

The population growth had taken Houston by storm, and Mr. Lorehn's Gothic church plans would take time to bring to fruition given both their beauty and complexity.  As such, it was decided to first place a small church at the corner of Pierce and San Jacinto Street to serve the flock, with the cornerstone of the smaller church being laid down on March 16, 1897 by Bishop Gallagher.  A few months later, on November 6, 1897, this first Sacred Heart was dedicated to God's service by Bishop Gallagher.  

Bishop Gallagher was able, fourteen years later, to lay down the cornerstone of the present Sacred Heart Church which resides at the corner of Fannin and Pierce as was designed by Mr. Lorehn.  The church was dedicated to God's service on April 14, 1912. The cost of the new church was $96,669 at the time (using the Consumer Price Index, that would be roughly $2.5 million today). The new Sacred Heart Church sat 800 people, had three stories, and was a blend of then-modern architectural styles with a continental Gothic style, a hallmark of Mr. Lorehn's work, and indeed a perfect fit for Houston.  After the completion of this new Sacred Heart, the original church became a school building.

Sacred Heart follows the tradition of the City of Houston, in many aspects, as growing quickly over short periods of time.  During the time of Sacred Heart's first construction, oil had been struck at Spindletop in 1901, the Port of Houston was reaching the 25-foot dredge mark, and Houston began its role as the energy capital of the world.  Constant expansion and growth then became a part of all our daily lives - indeed, the 1910 Census marked the population at 78,800 - compare that to the 1890 Census of just over 27,500.  As went the population's growth, so too did the growth of Sacred Heart.  No sooner had the workers gone, Mass was in full attendance, and the City was entering another growth phase, that Father Morgan J. Crow (fourth pastor of Sacred Heart), saw a need for an updated rectory.  As such, he commissioned the construction of a two-story, brick rectory that was completed and occupied in 1920 to replace the older wooden rectory.  The original church building which had been constructed as a temporary facility was then razed to make way for a school building.  The rectory's construction marked the beginning of three decades wherein no major construction or renovation of any kind occurred on the parish site.

The early 1950s brought about significant changes across the country - color television, the introduction of standardization for credit cards, and still cameras finally got a built-in flash.  However, one amenity came around that the city of Houston quickly became enamored with: air conditioning.  Monsignor Jerome A. Rapp, fifth pastor of Sacred Heart, was quick (and most wise) to see air conditioning as a useful item, and the first central air conditioning and heating unit was installed in 1953.  Monsignor Rapp brought more than just air conditioning to Sacred Heart, though - more importantly, he acquired most of the statues, and saw to the redecoration of the entire church.  Monsignor Rapp was a forward-thinker and he saw a greater role for Sacred Heart.  As such, on April 29, 1954, the property on the corner of Fannin and Calhoun Streets (now known as St. Joseph Parkway) was acquired; giving the parish ownership of the entire city block.  By 1956, the rectory was slated for redevelopment, and construction began on a larger, two-story, brick rectory with a basement. The new rectory was completed and occupied on February 10, 1957.  

The elevation of Sacred Heart to Co-Cathedral status came just two years later.  Blessed Pope John XXIII, the 261st Pope of the Catholic Church, realized the significant growth of Houston and its prominence on the world stage as a metropolitan area.  Thusly, re-designated the Diocese of Galveston to the Diocese of Galveston-Houston and at that time Sacred Heart was elevated to Co-Cathedral status.  While many non-Catholics may remember Blessed Pope John XXIII as Time Magazine's Man of the Year in 1962, Catholics also remember him for his diverse work in guiding Holy Mother Church during a time of global change and his calling to order of the Second Vatican Council (though he would pass away before the Council's work was completed, his vision is commemorated by liturgical celebrations in his honor - where authorized - of October 11, the anniversary opening date of the Second Vatican Council).   

A short five years after the elevation to Co-Cathedral status, the new Monsignor Roach had the exteriors of the original Sacred Heart Church and School refurbished, the sacristy enlarged, and a side door in the Nave added to make access easier. The interior of Sacred Heart was also remodeled in 1964 with wood wall panels.  Once again, decades would pass before Sacred Heart (now Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral) was to see any major renovations of any kind.  

The 1990's saw the rise of the integrated technologies era, and Houston's embrace as becoming both a technology and energy sector.  This period also saw the latest major interior renovation of the Co-Cathedral completed early in the decade.  So extensive had the renovations been - from a series of Italian mosaics to the a new Episcopal Chair, that it befit a rededication of Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral that occurred on March 25, 1990 with Archbishop (then Bishop) Joseph A. Fiorenza presiding.  However, by the end of the 1990's the growth of Houston (and growth of the Catholic community in the area with many seeking a new life here and leaving their home countries behind), meant that it was only a matter of time before a new Co-Cathedral was needed.  Archbishop Fiorenza saw this need, and was able to address it and bring to fruition a great project and thus bring to the parishioners of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston a new home for their Co-Cathedral, one to take Houston far into the next century.

Following in the historical steps of selecting the right architect for the job as Bishop Gallagher had done over a hundred years prior with Mr. Lorehn, the firm of Ziegler Cooper was selected in 2002 and commissioned by Archbishop Fiorenza to design the new Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart as it stands today at 1111 Saint Joseph Parkway.  Like Mr. Lorehn's vision of merging contemporary with traditional to stand the test of time with the first Sacred Heart Church, the firm of Ziegler Cooper merged modern architectural styles of clean lines with the Italian Romanesque style and adopting a showcase of tributes to the neo-Gothic era without being overly complex in look.  Their direction from Archbishop Fiorenza at the time was simple and yet powerful:  Archbishop Fiorenza encouraged the architects to build a Cathedral for the ages, one of profound spiritual expression and enduring artistic quality.  

Ziegler Cooper took this challenge to heart and moved forward on the project by using a 500-year horizon timeline for the Co-Cathedral's use.   Ziegler Cooper then did extensive global research (visiting other long-standing cathedrals, meeting with experts in architectural history of buildings centuries old, and so on) and chose to use materials that have shown to last this length of time in a manner fitting a cathedral of equal standing.  This is why parishioners and visitors to Co-Cathedral see the extensive use of durable and strong materials such as limestone, marble, as well accents of gold leaf, copper, and so on.  Co-Cathedral was designed - and built - to last, and Ziegler Cooper knew that this was to truly reflect the Heart of Christ in the Heart of Houston.  So began a project that would culminate six years later, and the Linbeck Group was selected to execute the building of Ziegler Cooper's most beautiful design work.

A flurry of activity would soon follow the selection of Ziegler Cooper and the Linbeck Group.  On December 29, 2004 Pope John Paul II created a second archdiocese in Texas, raising the Diocese of Galveston-Houston to the status of a Metropolitan Archdiocese.  Bishop Fiorenza was named the first Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, and Bishop Daniel N. DiNardo the Coadjutor Archbishop.  On February 28, 2006  Archbishop DiNardo became Ordinary of the Archdiocese when Archbishop Fiorenza announced his retirement.

Father Troy Gately, in December of 2006, then saw to the purchase of the former Federal Reserve Bank Building adjacent to the new Co-Cathedral (which was slated for completion within two more years).  The Federal Reserve moved into their new building on Allen Parkway, and when this land building available, Father Gately saw to it that the new Co-Cathedral would have a place for its parishioners to gather with classrooms, offices, a parish hall, youth rooms, music rooms, library, dining space, and so on.  The new building was renamed the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart Cathedral Centre and its Federalism architectural style of clean lines and modern simplicity was a wonderful juxtaposition and framework when compared to the original Sacred Heart and the new Co-Cathedral being constructed.   
Pope Benedict XVI in November of 2007 - a few short months before Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart would open its doors - elevated Archbishop DiNardo to the College of Cardinals.  Such an elevation was more than just recognition of Cardinal DiNardo's work and leadership in the Church, it also spoke volumes of the prominence of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston on the world stage in the context of the universal Church.

On April 2, 2008, the new Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart open its doors for the first time in a dedication Mass attended by Cardinals, Bishops, and numerous Church leaders from around the world, as well as by local Parishioners and numerous visitors and televised live.  Such a work of architecture as the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart was built as a Glory to God, in a matter befitting the millions of Catholics who call the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston home.

2009 saw the Co-Cathedral dedicate the Opus XIX Pipe Organ, hand crafted by a team led by Martin Pasi of Martin Pasi and Associates; and perhaps in some ways we can view the Opus XIX Pipe Organ as the last element of the building of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.  However, given the rich and glorious history of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston (indeed, in the greater context of the rich and bountiful history of the Holy Mother Church) this dedication is in no way an ending of something built.  Indeed, with the Opus XIX Pipe Organ, we mark a new beginning of both outreach and worship.

-Gilberto Velasquez, Jr.  | September 18, 2010 | Houston, TX

With credit and thanks to: Chris Felix, Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart / "The Engineering Record," Volume XLIII, 1901, Boston, MA, Compiled by Henry C. Meyer / Kerwin, Pat author of the "Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart" guide book / HoustonHistory.com / Strom, Steven R. "Houston Lost and Unbuilt"