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Madeleine milestone: Leaders celebrate cathedral's 100th anniversary

Religious, community and cultural leaders gathered along with hundreds of Utahns Sunday night to laud the role of Catholics and their 100-year-old cathedral in the history and current culture of the Beehive State.

A civic service at the Cathedral of the Madeleine initiated a weeklong celebration for the 100th anniversary of the building's dedication on Aug. 15, 1909.

Friendship among faiths, education, humanitarian outreach, the arts and recognition of the role of the Hispanic community within Utah's Catholic diocese were highlighted in word and song, with Bishop John C. Wester lauding the "courageous pioneer founders of this church."

"We also celebrate the support we've received from the larger Utah community, working with us to care for the poor and sick, assist the immigrants, educate and inform our young people and enable the enriching and civic work of the arts and humanities," he said.

Bishop Wester welcomed all, particularly President Thomas S. Monson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Frances, along with Presidents Henry B. Eyring and Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the church's First Presidency "with whom we've enjoyed a great working relationship over many years."

He expressed thanks to God for the "social and religious heritage" that has been fostered within the cathedral and expressed his prayer that "this legacy of faith and service will continue with great vigor as we face together the many challenges before us."

President Monson greeted the crowd in Spanish, lauding the cathedral as "a vital and integral part of Salt Lake City" that has played host to him many times as a speaker for funerals or community events.

He noted the longstanding tradition of the cathedral bells that toll for deceased presidents of the LDS Church on the day of their funeral services as an example of "the friendship and respect" that has grown between leaders of the two faiths over the years.

Nearly two decades ago, when restoration efforts for the cathedral were in the planning stages, Catholic leaders came to him for advice on who could help them raise the millions of dollars needed. The men and women he named each accepted the assignment, President Monson said.

He recalled cooperative efforts in humanitarian outreach between the two faiths, through Catholic Community Services locally and Catholic Charities internationally. After the restoration of one local Catholic facility several years ago, he attended the dedication where Bishop William Weigand sprinkled him liberally with holy water. When they sat together at a later community function, President Monson reminded him of the incident.

"It didn't seem to hurt you any, did it?" came Bishop Weigand's reply with a wry smile.

As both faiths work together in future humanitarian efforts, "we will eliminate the weakness of one standing alone and substitute instead the strength of many working together," as Jesus Christ would do, President Monson said.

Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, a Catholic who attended the cathedral as a college student and made bologna sandwiches for the poor at the soup kitchen nearby, said the cathedral "serves the entire community of our state."

He and his wife, Amy, were married there and their children attend the Catholic Choir School, where they are receiving "a first-rate education," he said, adding the cathedral will continue to be "an important religious, educational, social and community asset for years to come."

University of Utah President Michael Young lauded the building's landmark status within the community and the enhanced quality of life that Catholics bring to the state. "Its legacy of service, faithful dedication and cultural refinement" exemplify the contribution the church has made, he said.

The cathedral and its predecessor have spawned 11 different educational institutions during the faith's 133 year history in Utah, he said, including St. Mary's Academy, Holy Cross Hospital, St. Joseph's School, All Hallows College ("whose crowning achievement was defeating the U. in football"), the Holy Cross School of Nursing as well as parochial schools and the Catholic Choir School.

Ignacios Rios Navarro, consul of Mexico, recounted highlights of early Catholic history in the Utah Territory, recalling the recruitment of more than 5,000 Mexican workers to the state in the early 20th century to work in mining, farming and construction.

"All of them worked, as they do today, trying to find a better life for themselves and their families. Today there are more than 350,000 Hispanics living in Utah, 70 percent of them from the Mexican region," he said.

In 2007, Utah's estimated population of 2.7 million was 9.3 percent Catholic, he said, and in the 2009 National Catholic Directory, "70 percent of Catholics in the state are of Hispanic heritage."

The service itself was performed in both English and Spanish, with readings and music performed in both languages. Bishop Wester has been an outspoken advocate on immigration nationally as well as locally, and spoke both English and Spanish during the services.

e-mail: carrie@desnews.com