Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul

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Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul


Images of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul located at Cathedral Square in Providence, Rhode Island.

The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul is a Roman Catholic cathedral at 30 Fenner Street in the Cathedral Square neighborhood of Providence, Rhode Island, United States. It is the mother church of the Diocese of Providence. The Romanesque church was designed in 1873 by Patrick Keely and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

On November 4, 1838, the first mass was celebrated at a small church dedicated to Sts. Peter and Paul. Within the next five years, the population of Catholics continued to grow and flourish. In 1844, a new Diocese was formed with its See at Hartford, Connecticut. Its Bishop, William Tyler elected to reside in Providence, as the majority of Catholics lived there. As the number of Catholics in the region continued to grow, the Sts. Peter and Paul Church building could not accommodate the increasing numbers of Irish Catholic immigrants.

By 1872, the Catholic population in the diocese grew to 200,000 and Bishop McFarland expressed interest in creating a new and larger cathedral but was unable to gain support within the diocese. Upon Bishop Mcarland's request in 1871, for a reduced area to serve due to failing health, Pope Pius IX established the Diocese of Providence that encompassed Rhode Island, southeastern Massachusetts and Martha's Vineyard. In April 1872, Father Thomas Hendricken became the first Bishop of the new Diocese of Providence. The new diocese, at the time of its inception, recorded a Catholic population of 125,000; forty-three churches; fifty-three priests; six academies; nine parish schools with 4,225 students and one orphan asylum.

Just as his predecessor, Bishop Hendricken was also in favor of building a new cathedral church to replace the current decrepit and inadequate structure. However before any construction could begin, the parish had to erase a $16,000 debt. Bishop Hendricken worked tirelessly to get the cathedral built and in 1872, he was able to retire the debt and begin preliminary construction planning. In 1873, Patrick Keely was selected to draw the plans for one of the finest churches in the country. The following year, work on the foundation of a temporary church began when Bishop Hendricken signed a contract for the construction at a cost of $18,950. The old rectory was demolished and a new one built at the corner of Fenner and Pond Streets where it still stands.

The cornerstone of the current cathedral was laid in 1878. Bishop Hendricken set aside $10,000 each year toward the building of the new structure. He also mounted a series of fundraising campaigns to keep construction going as he would only permit work to proceed if money was available. By 1882, the roof was completed and work began on the interior. However, that year Bishop Hendricken's health began to fail. He died before the cathedral was completed and his funeral mass was the first to be celebrated in the unfinished cathedral in 1886. At the time of his death, construction costs totaled $300,000. In June 1889, more than a decade after construction began, the completed cathedral was finally consecrated by Bishop Matthew Harkins. After nearly 80 years of use the cathedral underwent a major renovation beginning in 1968. Diocesan leaders intended to complete work in time for the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the diocese in 1972. The work was initiated by Bishop Russell J. McVinney, the 5th Bishop of Providence; however, like his predecessor, Bishop McVinney did not live to see the completion of the newly renovated cathedral as he died in August 1971.

In 2006, the basement of the cathedral which holds the church hall was renovated to accommodate parish gatherings and diocesan functions. The basement crypt was dismantled and a new stone tomb was laid in the upper church as a final resting place for Bishop Hendricken. Church leaders believed that Bishop Hendricken deserved a more prominent place in the building, as the cathedral is considered his legacy. The other bishops buried in the crypt were moved to a cemetery in nearby Cranston.
Source: Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, Providence-From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

See also:
Preston Collection photographs (GRS5.7c), circa 1920-1930

Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission: Statewide Preservation Reports, 1975 - 1982

Various postcards of Providence and Pawtucket, R.I., c. 1918-1919


Rhode Island State Archives


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"Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul," in Virtual Exhibits, Item #215, (accessed October 20, 2018).