St. Raphael's Cathedral: Its Past and Its Future

Both firefighters and police officers are staying on the scene of Monday morning's St. Raphael Cathedral fire to make sure there are no flare ups caused by a smoldering fire underneath the pile of debris in the church.

Tuesday morning, a crane will come in to start removing that debris.

To keep the scene safe, officials say Main St. will be closed Tuesday, but the parking ramp on Main St. across from the cathedral will be open.

Officials also say the steeple is stable and will stay put. The question now is whether the bells, which weight 8-10 thousand pounds, are secure.

But for many, it's not what will stay or what is gone, it's the memories that are attached to such a longstanding landmark.

Wisconsin Historical Society Architectural Historian, Jim Draeger, says, "St. Raphael's was the center for the Irish and German immigrants who came to Madison in its early years and it was the place where they reinforced their ethnic customs and traditions."

Society photographs tell the story of Madison in the 1880s: a time when churches stood out as the prominent fixture of a community.

"Surviving buildings like that tell you the values, feelings and ideas people had in that time period," continues Draeger, "So when you lose that you lose the ability to tell those stories."

Stories that went up in smoke early Monday morning.

Bill Brophy, spokesman for the Madison Diocese, says, "Dominicans taught their for over a 100 years, a lot of people were schooled there, a lot of people were married there, a lot of people buried relatives there, had their first communion there so obviously when you have milestone events in your life like that, there are a lot of memories that go with the place."

The fire came at a particularly inconvenient time, 6 days before Palm Sunday.

"Bishop Morlino is calling a meeting tomorrow [Tuesday] afternoon with his consulters, which are basically 7 of his most veteran priests including Monsignor Paul Swain, Director of the Cathedral," says Brophy, "He is going to ask their advice on where they think it would be most beneficial for the dioceses to have Holy Week services."

In the meantime, the church will choose the best way to keep the memory of St. Raphael's alive.

Brophy says, "I think you have to be optimistic and think out of the ashes. You can be hopeful and we can go forward."

"It was built in a time and that time is long past and that time can never be recreated," says Draeger, "There will never be another St. Raphael's."

Brophy says they will decide on the location of Holy Week services in the next few days.

As for the long-term future of the cathedral, he says it's too early to tell. Once they know how much of the building is salvageable, they'll move forward with those plans.

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