Photo Gallery | Looking back: The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception celebrates 100 years
Red poinsettias line the altars at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, but the Christmas season is not the only thing being celebrated. The Cathedral, located at 935 Bilbo St. in Lake Charles, turned 100 years old this year. In its lifetime, the church has been rebuilt twice and has seen 18 pastors, 51 associate pastors and countless parishioners.
On Aug. 22, 2013, the Cathedral will hold the Centennial Celebration of the Crowning of Our Lady, a crowning ceremony for the statue of Mary inside the Cathedral. The crown is being crafted in Rome, Italy, and the Solari family, who assembled the current altars at the church, will affix the crown to the marble statue.
During the ceremony, a reception will be held in the Historic Calcasieu Marine Bank, to be followed by mass in the Cathedral. The reception will be open to the public, but the crowning is by invitation only.
There will also be a 2013 commemorative ornament available throughout 2013 in honor of the Cathedral’s centennial.
Ann Romero has been a parishioner at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception since the 1950s. She began attending Immaculate Conception School when she was 5 years old. Romero was married in the church, as was her oldest daughter. All but one of Romero’s children were baptized in the church. Romero has also been involved in the choir at the Cathedral for about 40 years.
“I wouldn’t give up the parish for anything, and I don’t even live in the parish… I wouldn’t go any place else. It’s a great community,” Romero said.
Cookie White, Parish Secretary at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, said that she was introduced to the church through her in-laws, who were married in the church in 1952. White was also married in the Cathedral.
“My husband was baptized here, married here and was buried here, so all of his sacraments were at this church,” White said. “All of our life (events) are right here in this church.”
“We have people whose grandmothers were married here, and their mothers were married here because her mother was married here. We have several generations of people getting married here,” White said.
“Since I work here, it’s not just a place of worship; it’s my place of employment… Part of my job is the church records. I love it. I love having those books: they smell old, they look old, (and) they’re written in Latin – the oldest ones – in the priests’ handwriting, and I just marvel that I get to be involved with this,” White said.
The cathedral first manifested in the form of a mission chapel built in the 1850s by Father Francois Raymond. On Sept. 26, 1858, the chapel, which measured 35 feet by 52 feet, was dedicated to St. Francis de Sales.
In 1869, a pastor was appointed to the chapel, which administered to the spiritual needs of an area known as Imperial Calcasieu, which was equivalent to present-day Allen, Beauregard, Jefferson Davis, Cameron and Calcasieu Parishes.
In 1879, a hurricane left the chapel badly damaged, and Father Michael Kelly led an effort to rebuild it. The newly constructed church was finished in 1881 and was renamed Church of the Immaculate Conception.
On April 23, 1910, a fire spanning from present-day Pujo and Clarence streets to Ryan and Common streets brought down over seven city blocks in downtown Lake Charles. Among the ashes were the Court House, City Hall, the church, its rectory, a convent, a boys’ school and an academy.
The church was rebuilt again, and in December of 1913, it was dedicated by Archbishop James Blenk of New Orleans. The church was consecrated on Dec. 8, 1927, in concurrence with the feast of the Immaculate Conception. In April of 1980, the Diocese of Lake Charles was created, with the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception serving as the Mother Church where the bishop performed ceremonies and celebrations. Today, the Cathedral serves as the parish seat for the Diocese of Lake Charles.
The current pastor at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is Monsignor Jace Eskind. The current bishop is Glen John Provost.
The Cathedral was built in the Lombardy Romanesque style of architecture, which features heavy brickwork, rounded arches, small windows and terra-cotta tile roofs. The Cathedral was designed by New Orleans architects Favrot and Livaudais. The Cathedral was built by contract workers Donovan and Rinehart of Oklahoma City in 1913.
The Cathedral is a Marian Church in that it houses 13 stained glass windows that depict scenes from the life of Mary, including her birth, her betrothal to Joseph, the Annunciation, the Nativity and the Assumption of Mary into Heaven. Among other structures honoring Mary are a statue of the Blessed Virgin on the central altar, a mosaic depicting Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a painting of Mary crushing a serpent’s head and a bell named Mary.
The bell weighs over 2,000 pounds and was purchased in 1936 from Verdin Co. in Cincinnati with proceeds from the raffle of a diamond ring donated by parishioner Mrs. Homer Bailey. The bell is currently housed in the Cathedral’s bell tower.
There is also a pipe organ in the choir loft at the Cathedral. The organ was built by the Wicks Organ Company of Highland, Ill. in 1957. The organ was renovated in 1993 and now has 1,042 pipes.
The Cathedral houses three Gothic marble altars that were purchased for $5,000 and moved from Salt Lake City Cathedral in 1923. Upon receipt, the shipped pieces of the altars were reassembled by Floyd Solari, owner of Solari Marble and Tile Company.
The stained glass windows in the Cathedral were purchased in 1939 from Emil Frei, Inc. of St. Louis, Mo.
Among the sculptures in the cathedral are the Pieta, St. Teresa the Little Flower, St. Anthony of Padua and St. Jude.
Monsignor Hubert Cramers, who oversaw the building of the current Cathedral and who served as its pastor for 33 years, is buried under the central altar, as he requested.