The Cathedral Parish

The current Cathedral Parish was formed by the 2008 merger of three Catholic parishes that had served downtown Madison since the nineteenth century:

  • St. Raphael – the original Catholic parish in Madison, designated the Cathedral when Madison was made a diocese in 1946.
  • Holy Redeemer – founded to serve the German-speaking Catholics of Madison in 1857.
  • St. Patrick – founded to serve English-speaking (principally Irish) Catholics living east of the Capitol Square in 1888.

These were the first three Catholic parishes in Madison, founded when the whole city did not even fill the isthmus – the narrow neck of land between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona.

Until World War II, Madison remained a very compact city with many families residing on the isthmus.  In the postwar years, several important developments led to the decline of the isthmus neighborhoods:  new subdivisions were built farther into the country to accommodate the new families of returning soldiers; the educational benefits offered by the GI Bill led to tremendous growth for the University of Wisconsin, causing downtown Madison to be increasingly dominated by a transient student population; and the growing bureaucracy of government took land that had been used for housing for office space.

Though the neighborhood was changing, the three parishes around the Capitol Square continued to thrive even after the war, riding the boom that affected all of American life.  Each of the downtown parishes was served by more than one priest; and each maintained an eight grade parish school.  The feeling of times can be judged by the fact that two of the parishes built brand new school buildings in the 1950’s.

But demographics could not be resisted forever.  The clearest evidence of the declining fortunes of the downtown parishes was the closure of the parish schools.  The parishes were no longer the center of vibrant Catholic neighborhoods, but did remain viable – in part because of the loyalty of parishioners who continued to attend them after they had moved away from the isthmus.

Each parish also had its unique strengths.  St. Raphael had its status as the Cathedral, which was highlighted when Bishop Morlino began celebrating Mass there on many Sundays.  Holy Redeemer benefited from being the most traditionally decorated church in the city, was located in the middle of densely populated student neighborhoods, and received a great infusion of “new blood” when the Mass began to be offered there weekly in Spanish.  St. Patrick retained territory beyond the isthmus, taking in parishioners in the Village of Maple Bluff.

It was the declining number of priests available to serve the parishes of the Diocese of Madison that was decisive in leading to the linking of the three downtown parishes.

In 2003, the rector of St. Raphael Cathedral (then Msgr. Paul Swain) was appointed to serve also as the pastor of Holy Redeemer.  After St. Raphael Cathedral was destroyed by arson in 2005, the pastor of St. Patrick was transferred and that parish also became the responsibility of Msgr. Swain.

In 2006, Msgr. Swain was chosen by the Holy See to be bishop of Sioux Falls, SD.  He was succeeded by Fr. (now Msgr.) Kevin Holmes, who worked to further coordinate the work of the three parishes in a joint mission to the isthmus, with a special emphasis on outreach to young adults.  This effort began at a time when a boom in the building of condominiums was increasing the housing stock in downtown Madison for the first time in many years.

In October 2007, Bishop Morlino announced that the three historic isthmus parishes would be merged into one Cathedral Parish community on July 1, 2008.  This merger is part of a realignment of parishes throughout the diocese, undertaken to serve our growing Catholic population as adequately as possible with a limited number of priests. The Bishop had previously announced his decision to build a new Cathedral of St. Raphael on the West Main Street site, to replace the church destroyed by arson.

On September 14, 2012, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a new Way of the Cross on the cathedral site was dedicated.  This Way of the Cross will preserve the sacred character and religious use of the property until a new cathedral can be built.

Once built, the new cathedral church will serve as the principal home for the Cathedral Parish.  This building will be designed from the beginning to serve as a cathedral, and so will also be large enough to accommodate the great congregations coming for diocesan celebrations.  Pending the completion of the new cathedral, the Cathedral Parish continues to use the facilities of Holy Redeemer and St. Patrick.


St. Raphael Cathedral
(no longer standing)
Holy Redeemer Church
St. Patrick Church