History of the Cathedral

The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart is over a hundred years old. This second cathedral church of Richmond was consecrated on Thanksgiving Day (November 29, 1906), by Archbishop Diomedio Falconio, papal representative to the bishops of the United States. The date of dedication and the presence of the pope’s envoy symbolized the compatibility of the Catholic faith and American society, and the determination of Virginia’s Catholics to participate in it.

The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart was built during the tenure of Augustine van de Vyver, sixth bishop of Richmond (1889–1911). The generosity of one couple financed the construction of the edifice: Thomas Fortune Ryan (1851–1928) and his wife, Ida Mary Barry (1854–1917), who donated $500,000 ($15 million today) for the project.

Originally, the title of the first cathedral of Richmond, “St. Peter’s,” was to transfer to the new cathedral, but Bishop Van de Vyver petitioned the Holy See to change the name to “Sacred Heart.” That title was meant to honor the name of the local parish that the new cathedral would absorb, and to promote devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Archbishop John J. Keane, formerly the fifth bishop of Richmond (1878–1888), returned to the diocese to preach at the dedication of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. He declared in his sermon that,

“The ministrations of divine truth and divine grace that shall hallow this sanctuary for all the future shall have… for their purpose, to draw all men… closer to the Heart of Christ, and thereby to draw them in fraternal charity closer to one another… May this twofold divine love be… a fountain of most precious blessings both for time and for eternity.”