I’m writing this post on St. Patrick’s Day and so it seems appropriate to write about one of the iconic places of Youngstown that bears the name of another Irish saint, the Cathedral of St. Columba. Columba was born in Ireland, educated in one of the monastic schools in that country, and with a band of twelve led a mission that spread Christianity to present day Scotland. He founded the famous abbey of Iona where he died in 597 AD.
St. Columba’s church and parish was founded in 1847 and the first church building completed in 1850. A larger church was completed in 1868, and a larger one yet in 1897, with copper covered spires completed in 1927. In 1943, the Diocese of Youngstown was established, and St. Columba was chosen as the cathedral for the new diocese.
One of the big events in Youngstown in 1954 was the fire as a result of a lightning strike that left this cathedral in ruins. I heard about the fire growing up, and it must have been a heart-breaking event for the Catholic community of Youngstown. It occurred on September 2, 1954, less than a month after I was born. I suspect the fire was visible from many parts of the city, given its location at the corner of Wood and Elm Street on the hill overlooking downtown Youngstown.
A new cathedral was designed by the architectural firm Diehl & Diehl, based in Detroit with construction beginning in 1956 by The Charles Shutrump and Sons Company. The present structure was completed on November 9, 1958 and dedicated by Bishop Emmet M Welsh. The building is an example of modern church architecture with a “Romanesque” style. The soaring vertical lines, and particularly the campanile, or bell tower (132 feet above street level) immediately catch the eye and draw it upward toward the heavens.
There is so much that is distinctive about this structure beginning with the eleven foot Joseph M. LeLauro statue of St Columba on the southwest corner of the entrance. The other thing one immediately notices when entering the cathedral are the stain glass windows, portraying the Apostles, who are the foundation of the church. There is an architectural and liturgical guide to the cathedral printed at the time of the dedication of the building that wonderfully describes the cathedral. It may be accessed at: https://issuu.com/edelcolle/docs/st.columba_booklet.
The picture of the cathedral at the top of this post is roughly the view I saw out the third floor back windows in the Customer Service area at McKelvey’s. Whenever I finished dealing with a particularly nasty customer, I could step back to the windows and be reminded to “look up” to get perspective and calm my heart.
In researching this post, I discovered that one of my high school classmates, Monsignor Peter M. Polando, is the Rector of the parish. I remember him as a person of character during our years together at Chaney High School, so it does not surprise me at all to see him in this role. Well done Monsignor Polando!
The Cathedral of Saint Columba looks out over the city of Youngstown and is visible from many points across the Valley. That seems fitting for a diocese cathedral whose patron saint had a deep care for spreading the Christian message widely through the lands beyond Christian Ireland. The church serves as a center for many diocesan and cultural events. May it continue to be a light in the Valley!