By Marnie McAllister, Record Editor
BARDSTOWN, Ky. — Two-hundred years ago, a block of stone cut from the Holy Land of Kentucky was laid July 16 at one corner of what was to become the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral.
Soon after, workers shaped an unfathomable amount of red Kentucky clay into more than a million bricks and laid layer upon layer to raise the cathedral.
Lighting the way
Next week, members and friends of the parish will celebrate the laying of the cornerstone and the beginning of this historic church. The celebration will commence with a ceremony called “Lighting Our Way to the Cornerstone” on July 14 at 8 p.m. It will include the lighting of luminaries in the form of a cross, a blessing of the building and an ice-cream social.
During the evening, participants will also be treated to stories about the erection of the cathedral, told in the first person by characters representing the cathedral’s founding bishop, Bishop Benedict Joseph Flaget, the architect and an imaginary mother of 12 based on a typical parishioner of the time period.
On July 16, the bicentennial of the cornerstone’s laying, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz will celebrate Mass at 4 p.m.
He will be joined by the cathedral’s titular bishop, Bishop Jim Massa, who is also an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Bishop Daniel E. Thomas, former titular bishop and now the Bishop of Toledo. A potluck dinner will follow the liturgy.
Christ the cornerstone
Father Terry Bradshaw, pastor of St. Joseph, said the celebrations will serve as a reminder of the diocese’s roots and of its foundation in Christ.
“The cornerstone is a biblical image,” said Father Bradshaw in a phone interview last week. “In beginning any building, you lay the cornerstone and everything in the building is aligned to that stone. It is a guide.
“Our cornerstone is Christ,” he said. “That’s true in every age. Christ is the one we align ourselves to. This is a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect upon that.”
St. Joseph was the first cathedral of the Archdiocese of Louisville, which at the time was known as the Diocese of Bardstown. The diocese transferred to Louisville in 1841 and became an archdiocese in 1937. St. Joseph was designated a minor basilica in 2001 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
By the time the basilica was complete in 1819, it reached a height of 60 feet and sprawled to a rectangular 150 feet long and 74 feet wide.
“It’s amazing to me how much faith people of that time period had,” said Father Bradshaw. “Here you are in a pioneer setting, very limited development, when most houses were log structures — not even brick. They put out a tremendous effort to construct a church that points to heaven as the tallest building in the area, saying, ‘This is number one in our lives.’ ”
For more information about the celebration, call the parish office at 502-348-3126. The parish is also planning a bicentennial celebration of the cathedral’s completion in 2019.