Cathedral assessed; its history explored

Bishop Martin Amos stands next to the bishop’s chair inside Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. The cathedral is home to the bishop and hosts many special events during the year.

By Anne Marie Amacher

DAVENPORT — A cathedral, as home to the bishop, represents the center of unity for the diocese and gives witness to the diversity and universality of the Catholic Church.

Sacred Heart Cathedral (formerly St. Marguerite) has been the cathedral for the Diocese of Davenport since the diocese formed in 1881.

The cathedral parish is beginning a long journey to look to the future, and in the process is reflecting on its past.

A committee has begun an assessment of the physical plant of the cathedral buildings and also is looking into accessibility, welcoming and safety, among the issues.


“No decisions have been made,” Father Robert Busher, pastor, stated in a parish bulletin, noting that this is just the first of many steps that could lead to decision-making down the road.

Meanwhile, the parish council and finance council are being updated. The parish held a town meeting on cathedral finances earlier this year and expects to hold another one in the future.

This parish is not an ordinary parish, but the cathedral parish. To help parishioners appreciate the difference, Deacon Frank Agnoli, the diocese’s director of liturgy, gave an explanation in parish bulletins earlier this year.

In the article “What is a cathedral?” he noted that the bishop’s chair (cathedra) inside the cathedral symbolizes the bishop’s teaching office and authority. “It is from here that the bishop teaches and shepherds the flock entrusted to his care,” Deacon Agnoli said, referring to information from the Congregation for Divine Worship’s “The Ceremonial of Bishops.”

The cathedral is the site of special liturgies at which the bishop presides and it serves the entire church in the diocese because “The cathedral stands at the center of diocesan life and ministry,” The Ceremonial of Bishops states.

Ceremonies such as ordinations of priests and permanent deacons, the Chrism Mass and Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion are traditionally celebrated at the cathedral. “These events are done for the diocese, not for a particular parish,” Deacon Agnoli said.

Priests and deacons are ordained for the entire diocese, which is why such ordinations generally are celebrated in a cathedral. The Chrism Mass also is a diocesan-wide celebration because the oils that are blessed at the Mass are for all of the parishes. Priests of the diocese also renew their commitment to the priesthood at the Chrism Mass, and so it has become tradition to celebrate that Mass at the cathedral.

The Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion is held at both the cathedral and in Ottumwa because of the rural nature of the diocese and space limitations, Deacon Agnoli said. Otherwise the cathedral would host the ceremony because it celebrates the next step in the journey of individuals from throughout the diocese planning to enter the Catholic Church.

How Sacred Heart became the cathedral for the Diocese of Davenport can be found in “The History of Sacred Heart Cathedral.”

Established in 1856 as St. Marguerite Parish, it was the third parish in the city of Davenport. 

Antoine and Marguerite LeClaire donated the land and paid for the building of the church and its furnishings, as well as a rectory later on, the history book states.

When the Diocese of Davenport was established in 1881, Bishop John McMullen chose St. Margaret’s as its cathedral. In March 1889, Bishop Henry Cosgrove announced plans to build a new cathedral after determining the existing church was not adequate for cathedral functions. Additions or remodeling was not advised. Work on the new cathedral, built with Bedford stone from Indiana, got underway that year.

Because of the “great devotion to Sacred Heart of Jesus and First Friday devotions,” the bishop petitioned Pope Leo XIII to change the name to Sacred Heart Cathedral. On Dec. 23, 1889, the pope approved the name Sacred Heart of Jesus for the Davenport cathedral.

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