Walking in the steps of Eero Saarinen in Fort Wayne was one thing, but it was quite another to stay kitty-corner from the former stomping grounds of not only a saint, but also the founder of the largest English-language Catholic publisher in the world.
Downtown Fort Wayne’s Cathedral Square is home to the chancery of the Diocese of Fort Wayne, St. Mother Theodore Guerin Chapel and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.In 1846, Sister St. Theodore Guerin founded St. Augustine Academy, the first Catholic school in Fort Wayne, on the site that is now occupied by the chancery for the Diocese of Fort Wayne. Six years earlier, she led a group of five Sisters of Providence from France to the United States to establish a motherhouse, novitiate and school at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. St. Mother Theodore Guerin was canonized in 2006, was officially designated as Saint Theodora, and her feast day is celebrated on October 3. The chapel on Cathedral Square is dedicated to her.
In 1859, construction began on a cathedral on the site of the former St. Augustine Church, which had been built in 1839 and was destroyed by a fire. The cathedral was finished the following year.
Inside, the cathedral features stained-glass windows depicting the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary that were made by the Royal Bavarian Art Institute for Stained Glass in Munich, Germany and were installed in 1896.
The Stations of the Cross were hand-carved for the cathedral at the Institute in Oberammergau, Germany. You can spot the Cathedral of Lucerne, Switzerland in the background of the scene of the crucifixion.
The Belgian oak reredos was hand-carved on-site by artists from both Oberammergau and Cleveland. The figures depict details from the life of Jesus, together with apostles, saints and missionaries of religious orders whose members made a mark on the diocese.
John Francis Noll (1875-1956) presided at the cathedral as a bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne from 1925 until his death. He was named an archbishop in 1953. In 1912, he founded the popular weekly Catholic newspaper, Our Sunday Visitor.
A Fort Wayne native who was one of 19 children, Noll was ordained a priest in 1898 and served his parishioners in nearby Huntington, Indiana.Noll was so tired of anti-Catholic literature that when a bankrupt publisher offered him a printing press for $1, he decided to print and edit a bulletin that would help Catholics learn about, uphold and preserve their faith in a secular society. Since then, Our Sunday Visitor has grown to become the largest English-language Catholic publisher in the world. It was also selected by the Vatican to distribute the North American English edition of the official Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano (The Roman Observer).
Our Sunday Visitor is also the largest manufacturer of church offering envelopes in the world, printing several hundred million envelopes annually. Its not-for-profit organization, the Our Sunday Visitor Institute, awards millions of dollars to Catholic organizations throughout the country each year.
Installments of Noll’s weekly column, “Father Smith Instructs Jackson,” were later collected into a best-selling book that is still in print.
At the nearby Archbishop Noll Catholic Center, you can also visit a bookstore and a museum that tells the story of the history of Catholicism in northeast Indiana through religious artifacts, stained glass, vestments, photographs, printed material and other unique objects.
The collection on display includes a circa-1850 writing desk that belonged to Monsignor Julian Benoit, the priest who built the cathedral and served as its rector for 45 years. You can also see an exact replica of the cross Christopher Columbus brought with him from Spain to the New World in 1492. The Quincentenary cross, was a gift to the Diocese of Fort Wayne from the Knights of Columbus in 1992, to mark the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery.
For more on the editor and the saint, see the entries for January 25, Noll’s birthday, and October 22, the date Guerin arrived in Indiana, on pages 27 and 320 of The American Catholic Almanac, by Brian Burch and Emily Stimpson.