Liturgical Arts in South Dakota (Diocese of Rapid City)

Each year the famous backdrop of Mt. Rushmore National Memorial in the beautiful Black Hills and the nearby Badlands National Park of South Dakota attract many thousands of tourists to Rapid City from across the nation and world.  These people make the journey to the untamed prairie in southwestern South Dakota to take in the nature and see the colossal stone carving in granite depicting four U.S. presidents made from 1927-1941.  

Meanwhile, one of the fastest growing FSSP apostolates in North America is Immaculate Conception parish in Rapid City, South Dakota.  This beautiful Romanesque sandstone church, built in 1909, was once the cathedral of Rapid City from 1930-1962.  The parish was originally established in 1881.  It is a beautiful church with a rock-faced exterior of cut stone with beautiful voussoir stones around the exterior vault windows and arches.  The church was dedicated on July 9, 1911.  Originally Rapid City was part of the Diocese of Lead, South Dakota, created in 1902 by Pope Leo XIII.  When the diocesan See was transferred from Lead to Rapid City in August of 1930, St. Mary's became the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.       

At the time of the creation of the Diocese of Rapid City in 1930, this church was the only Catholic church in town, located at the corner of 5th and South Streets.  Overnight it became the cathedral, a perfect location just up the street from the heart of downtown.  The new bishop took up his residence in an elegant brick mansion just a few minutes drive away at 1622 West Blvd while the basement in those years also housed the diocesan chancery.  In the photo below the Battle of Lepanto banner of the Holy League can be seen hanging from the church ceiling, a copy of the original that was unfurled by Don Juan of Austria on his flagship during the epic sea battle in 1571.    

Originally known as St. Mary's Immaculate Conception Church, the chapel fittingly became the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in 1930.  Thankfully the interior was never changed.  The Romanesque high altar and Neo-Gothic side altars are original.  The only objects removed were the original bishop's throne with small canopy, the altar rail and pulpit.  The ceiling is covered with various images painted in the marouflage technique, canvas paintings that were painted at a studio and plastered or glued to the ceiling.  In 1975 the church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Since 1992 an indult Latin Mass was celebrated here which led to the arrival of the FSSP.   

Needless to say, the always growing Catholic population quickly outgrew the old cathedral.  As early as 1948 both priests and lay faithful were speaking openly and optimistically that perhaps one day soon a larger and proper cathedral could be built at some opportune time.  At the time of the naming of the cathedral, the population of Rapid City was 10,404.  By 1950, the population had over doubled to 25,310.  Today the population is over 75,200. Catholic families continue to move to Rapid City and environs, looking for an affordable refuge in an increasingly secular world.   

Historically, the parish was always growing and a lack of space was always felt.  A temporary solution was found after a new gym was built in 1950-1951 for the adjoining Cathedral High School, that was right north of the rectory at 918 5th Street.  Sunday Masses were celebrated here on the hour, so as to accommodate the crowds, a quick solution to overcrowding in the church.    

Groundbreaking for the new cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help took place in the winter of 1960.  The cornerstone was laid April 2, 1961.  Bishop William McCarty celebrated the first Pontifical Mass in the new cathedral on August 15, 1962.  The celebration included the consecration of each of the five new altars in the EF.  Beautiful color photos exist of the ceremony.    

Meanwhile, nine months later on May 7, 1963, Archbishop Egidio Vagnozzi, the Apostolic Delegate in Washington, D.C., along with many clergy and prelates from the province and beyond joined in the solemn consecration of the building after construction was completed and the debt was paid in toto.  

Bishop McCarty had an interesting story.  At age 4 he was an orphan.  He was raised by relatives and joined the Redemptorists (thus his devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help).  During the Second World War he was consecrated bishop and was given special duties in the Military Ordinariate, visiting military bases and administering the sacrament of Confirmation to soldiers.  His good friend and promoter was Francis Cardinal Spellman, who travelled here to Rapid City for the installation of his friend as coadjutor bishop of Rapid City on May 8, 1947.    

Since 1962 the former cathedral was simply designated and maintained as a chapel of the new cathedral for many years, relatively unused.  It was given to the FSSP on August 1, 2014 when a decree established it as a personal parish for the pastoral care of the faithful who desire to be part of a community that worships in the Classical Rite (in accordance with the provisions of Canons 515 and 518 of the CIC).  Perhaps one day the interior will be re-painted in beautiful Gothic stencil work.  The precious stained glass windows, all original, are of special merit with their luminous palette of color and light.  

Over a period of many generations parishioners and their families have put down roots here and made memories while receiving the sacraments in the context of great beauty.  The preserved art work in the church and the careful way in which the sacred rites are celebrated here are a visible translation of spiritual realities.  It is a blessing to see this community flourishing at a time when many parishes are in their terminal stage.  For more information on the history of the parish, see the Wiki page for the parish.    

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