October 5, 2022


Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Saint John

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Saint John

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and Bishop’s Palace on Waterloo Street are designated Local Historic Places for their historical and religious associations with early Irish Catholic immigrants to Saint John and for their architecture.

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is recognized for its association with Irish immigration in Saint John and for that community’s devotion to the Catholic denomination. Between 1845 and 1847, approximately 30,000 Irish arrived in Saint John, more than doubling the population of Saint John. During this period, Saint John was second only to Grosse Isle, Quebec as the busiest port of entry to Canada for Irish immigrants. 

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Saint John, NB

Bishop Thomas Connolly
Bishop Thomas Connolly

Bishop Thomas Louis Connolly arrived in Saint John in 1852 and was confronted with the challenge of providing a place of worship which would accommodate the large Irish Catholic population. His vision was of a cathedral “as a centre of action and rallying point for all future operations in the diocese”.

In 1853, four hundred men gathered as volunteers in the work of digging the foundation at the site. Local quarries supplied the stone to construct the Cathedral and it is estimated that 221 stone cutters were employed at various times. Three thousand people were present for the first Christmas Mass in 1855 when Bishop Connolly dedicated the Cathedral, and later, in 1885, the completed Cathedral was consecrated with great fanfare.

In 1860 Bishop John Sweeney was consecrated and he set out to complete the work. The chapel, chancel, and entrances were finished in 1861, in which year the adjacent Bishop’s Palace was also built. In 1871 the Cathedral’s spire, which reaches 300 feet above sea level, was completed and is believed to have subsequently served as a navigational aid for vessels entering the harbour. The wider Catholic community of Saint John has continued to regularly add to the Cathedral in the form of improvements and commemorations.

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception has architectural value as a major work of Saint John architect Matthew Stead (1808-1880). Stead’s other extant major work is the Prince William Street Post Office. He also designed St. Paul’s (Valley) Church in Saint John. The Cathedral is an excellent example of a high style, high quality stone place of worship in the Gothic Revival style that serves as a city landmark. Built on a cruciform plan, it features English Gothic-style massing, elements and ornamental detail.

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Saint John, NB

The interior of the church features arcading between the nave and side aisles with a niched statuary, a clerestory above, richly carved woodwork furniture in the chancel and an ornate Lady Chapel to the north of the main altar. The interior also features much commemorative and liturgical furniture and ornamentation dating from the full range of the history of the Diocese.

Bishops Palace Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Saint John

The second significant building on the property is the Bishop’s Palace, which is also a fine example of a uniquely styled, quality stone ecclesiastical building in the city. Constructed of ashlars masonry, it is an example of Gothic Revival architecture with Italianate elements. Its rectilinear massing with heavy roof overhang and cornice of stone modillions resembles an Italian Renaissance palace. The pointed-arch dormers and prominent pointed-arch elevated entranceway are Gothic Revival, duplicating the design elements of the main entrances to the Cathedral. 

Click on a thumbnail to see more photos of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. 

Dictionary of Canadian Biography

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