Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 16, 2003
In search of Corpus Christi
Shamrock Irish founded Cathedral Corpus Christi
Corpus Christi -- Solemnity -- June 22
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Corpus Christi, Texas
What more fitting place to celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ than in the only city in the world named for the feast of Corpus Christi and in a grand cathedral personally named by a pope?
And what a site for a church! Although now backed by modern office towers, the dramatic placement of this beige brick Spanish Colonial Revival edifice on the city's famous 13-metre high Broadway Bluff provides an overview of the revitalized downtown area and the colourful waterfront of this Shining City by the Sea.
The feast of Corpus Christi was initiated in 13th century Belgium when visions experienced by Blessed Julianna of Mount Cornillon noted the absence of an annual observance to celebrate Christ's presence on the altar. With her encouragement, Liege Bishop Robert of Turotte initiated the feast in 1246 and later, Popes Urban IV and Clement V promoted it.
Processions bearing the Holy Eucharist became an integral part of Corpus Christi observances over the years. This year's will be particularly joyful as Corpus Christians celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of their parish.
From the church's front steps there are vistas of the enclosed Bahia del Corpus Christi (Bay) named by early Spanish explorers, with its shrimp boats and distant ship channel into the country's fifth largest port.
A relatively young place, Corpus Christi began as a shoreline post office in 1840, took its name from the bay and was incorporated in 1852.
Inside the church, whether greeted by smartly uniformed, courteous usher/greeters at one of the four weekend Masses, or enjoying a quiet, prayerful pause, visitors are impressed by the huge nave with its flat ceiling and ornamented roof beams. Focus of attention is the large image of Christ the King, Eternal High Priest, flanked by eight saints, high above the altar.
Green marble furnishings (reredos, altar) and a shamrock d‚cor hint at the early history of the parish, founded in 1853. The Catholics of Corpus Christi were visited by Victoria pastor James Fitzgerald before the first resident priest, Bernard O'Rielly, completed a small adobe church in 1857. Slow to appreciate the great religious significance of their town's name, the mainly Irish parishioners (19 families) chose to dedicate it to their homeland's patron St. Patrick.
A second St. Patrick's became a cathedral with the establishment of a new diocese in 1912 and in 1939 the present church was begun. Pope Pius XII, on learning the name of the new cathedral, suggested that "Corpus Christi" was a more appropriate designation considering the unusual name of the see city.
Thirteen large stained glass windows portraying Eucharistic themes grace the nave. A huge choir loft, beneath a prized window of the Holy Trinity, accommodates Texas' largest "Catholic" organ and the cathedral's several choirs, most notably the 100 member Pontifical Chorale.
To fully appreciate this great structure as a house of worship, visitors should attend one of the weekend Eucharistic celebrations or better still, one of the year's major feast days, when more than 1,500 people crowd the huge nave. Choirs, musicians and processions accent the importance of these joyful annual events - Easter, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Christmas time and particularly the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. For important events, the cathedral often co-operates with nearby Spanish-speaking Sacred Heart Parish.
Visitors are made to feel welcome at breakfast following the Sunday 9:30 a.m. (televised) Mass in the spacious church basement with its walls a galley of historic photos. Or, if they prefer Sunday brunch elsewhere, the cathedral is handy to a variety of popular eating places - Seafood? Mexican?