Raleigh's Catholic Congregation Has Outgrown America's Second-Smallest Cathedral

Dec 19, 2014

The late Gothic Revival-style Cathedral of the Sacred Heart seats 320 people. It was built as a mission church, and was named the cathedral because it was bigger than other churches in the state. It is the second-smallest cathedral in the country.
Credit sacredheartcathedral.org

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Raleigh will break ground on a new cathedral in January.

The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart is the principal church in the Raleigh diocese which covers the Eastern half of North Carolina.

Raleigh Bishop Michael Burbidge says it's also the second-smallest Catholic cathedral in the United States, after the Cathedral of the nativity in Juneau, Alaska.

Burbidge says Sacred Heart was never intended to be a cathedral in the first place. When it was built in 1924, there were only 6,000 Catholics in North Carolina, and the state didn’t have a diocese to speak of. Visiting priests would come to Raleigh to say mass.

At a time when church attendance is falling across the country, North Carolina's Catholic population has grown. North Carolina now has two dioceses and nearly a million Catholics.

“And at that time, it was designated as the cathedral because of its extensive seating capacity of 320 people,” Burbidge explains. “And so that’s what it is now.”

But at a time when church attendance is falling across the country, Burbidge says North Carolina’s Catholic population has grown. North Carolina now has two dioceses and nearly a million Catholics.

Burbidge says 3,000 households are part of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart’s parish. There are 11 masses on a Sunday, with more on holidays. But Burbidge says they building can’t hold everyone.

Masses are held in the school basement, and in a nearby hotel, and even outside.

"That’s not acceptable,” says Burbidge.

O'Brien and Keane Architects designed the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral to seat 2,000 people.
Credit O'Brien and Keane

O’Brien & Keane Architecture have designed a new cathedral for the Diocese of Raleigh.

The Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral will seat about 2,000 people. Burbidge says about 22,000 churchgoers across the diocese weights in on the $41 million project. It will have a traditional Neoclassical design, a bell tower and a parking deck.

This is a grand investment, especially considering economic hardship.

Burbudge says the cathedral is part of a larger campaign, which raised an additional $30 million. About a third of that will go the Catholic charities, which provides services for poor people and immigrants. The rest will be distributed throughout the diocese for charitable initiatives, parish projects, and pastoral outreach.

“It was never … either we serve the poor and needy or we built a cathedral. Of course not.”

Builders will break ground on the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral on January 3rd. After the two-year project is completed, the Sacred Heart Cathedral will continue to serve Catholics as it was intended, as a parish church.