The Sacred Heart Cathedral at 1025 North Grand Avenue in Pueblo was dedicated as Sacred Heart Church in 1913. A rare example of Gothic Revival architecture in Pueblo, the cathedral demonstrates the continued importance of Catholicism in the history of Colorado. In 1942 the Vatican responded to the growing Catholic population in Colorado by dividing the state into two dioceses—districts administered by bishops—seated in Denver and Pueblo. As a result, a bishop was stationed in Pueblo and the Sacred Heart Church gained cathedral designation. The cathedral has been led by five consecutive bishops and continues to serve the Catholic citizens of Pueblo.
Early Catholicism in Pueblo
In 1842 George Simpson and Robert Fisher established El Pueblo as a small trading camp near the site of present-day Pueblo. In 1870 the town of Pueblo was established near the site of El Pueblo in Colorado Territory. As Pueblo expanded, it enveloped the surrounding towns of South Pueblo, Central Pueblo, and Bessemer by the end of the century. William Jackson Palmer’s Denver & Rio Grande Railroad reached South Pueblo in 1872, furthering the city’s growth. In 1881 Palmer constructed a Bessemer furnace south of the Arkansas River, and Pueblo’s became an industrial center. As industry flourished, Americans from the East Coast and European immigrants flocked to the area, creating a need for new community amenities, including churches.
Many of Pueblo’s newest residents were Catholics. The city's first Catholic parish, St. Ignatius, was established in 1871, and local Catholics soon clamored for a church as well as a Jesuit priest to attend to the needs of the growing community. In 1872 Reverend Charles M. Pinto arrived in Pueblo; the next spring, St. Ignatius Church was completed and held its first mass. The church burned down in 1882, but the community built a new church on the corner of Eleventh Street and Grand Avenue later that year.
Building the Sacred Heart Church
Over the next twenty-five years, the local Catholic population continued to grow, prompting Bishop Nicholas Matz to announce the construction of a larger church in 1909. Reverend Michael White organized the undertaking, but because of health issues he was replaced in 1910 by Reverend Thomas J. Wolohan. On April 10, 1913, the St. Ignatius parish completed and dedicated the Sacred Heart Church at 1025 North Grand Avenue, adjacent to the 1882 church. The Gothic Revival building was designed by Denver architects Robert Willison and Montana S. Fallis and built by Pueblo contractors J. M. Giles and J. E. Tully. It featured a sandstone foundation, brick walls, a ceramic tile roof, and stained-glass windows crafted by Emil Frei’s St. Louis glass studio. The cruciform plan included a 135-foot spire, triangular parapets, pointed arch windows, and a vertical emphasis, all common elements of Gothic Revival churches. The building cost $48,000 and was financed in part by the congregation’s 190 families. The church could seat 600 worshipers.
Sacred Heart Becomes a Cathedral
In 1941 Vatican authorities responded to the growing Catholic population in Colorado by dividing the state into two sections, or dioceses. Denver became the administrative center for northeastern Colorado, while Pueblo represented the southern and western portions of the state. At the time, the Diocese of Pueblo contained thirty counties and over 80,000 Catholic worshipers.
As the head of a new diocese, Pueblo required a cathedral as well as a bishop to administer the district. The Diocesan Bishop would be in charge of leading the priests and deacons in teaching, governing, and sanctifying the faithful within the diocese. In 1942 Bishop Joseph C. Willging moved to Pueblo's Sacred Heart Church, which was elevated to cathedral status. The church was renovated to embrace the liturgical requirements of a cathedral, including the installation of an Episcopal throne in the sanctuary on the Gospel side, the transfer of the pulpit to the Epistle side, the expansion of the sanctuary, and the addition of pontifical vestments and a red velvet carpet covering the entire floor.
In 1959 Willging died and was replaced by Bishop Charles A. Buswell. Buswell served the diocese for twenty years before relinquishing leadership to Arthur N. Tafoya of Santa Fe in 1980. Fernando Isern served as Bishop of the Pueblo Diocese from 2009 to 2013, when he was replaced by Stephen J. Berg. Although the Sacred Heart Cathedral hosts the Diocesan Bishop, a rector is required to handle the activities of the church itself and direct local endeavors.
The Sacred Heart Cathedral has seen several repairs and additions since the late twentieth century. In 1988 the cathedral underwent a series of projects to repair structural damage, revive the stained-glass windows, update the heating and cooling systems, provide adequate restrooms, and improve accessibility. In 1989 the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1994 Anthony Capps-Capozzolo commissioned San Luis artist Huberto Maestas to cast a bronze sculpture of the patroness of the Pueblo Diocese Saint Therese of Lisieux to display on the cathedral grounds. In 2007 the stained-glass windows were restored by Stephen Frei—grandson of the original craftsman—after being damaged by a hail storm. In 2009 lightning struck the cathedral, and the upper half of the steeple had to be replaced. In 2011 the rectory was refurbished, and lighting and sound systems were updated.
In 2017 Reverend Stephen Berg acquired two fourth-century relics of Saint Blaise and Saint Lucy to house in the cathedral. The relics are partial physical remains of the saints, which many Catholic officials believe can channel holy healing power.
As the seat of the Pueblo Diocese, the Sacred Heart Cathedral hosts important Diocesan events such as Bishop inaugural ceremonies in addition to holding Eucharistic Liturgies each day of the week. The cathedral also administers Catholic schools in Durango and Pueblo.