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Chattanooga, Tennessee: Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul & tomb of Fr Patrick Ryan

About the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Chattanooga:

Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Chattanooga was founded in January 1852, when Father Henry V. Brown—a Presbyterian convert—became the first pastor. Catholics in Chattanooga met for Mass in a number of buildings from the early 1840s through the parish’s early years until 1890, when the current building on Eighth Street was dedicated. The former buildings included a nearly completed stone church demolished in 1863 by the occupying Union Army, which used the stone for fortifications and culverts.

Irish priest Father William Walsh was appointed pastor in 1887 and immediately made plans for a new church. Ground was broken Feb. 1, 1888, and the church was dedicated June 29, 1890. Then–pastor Father George Flanigen, in his 1952 history of the parish, described the building as an “imposing Gothic structure of brick and stone, 165 feet long by 75 feet wide, seating 1,000 persons.” The church was likely inspired by England’s York Minster cathedral, he wrote. Older photos of the church show its original 174-feet-high twin towers, “surmounted by 100 crocketed pinnacles and turrets,” in the words of Father Flanigen. Crumbling sandstone trim, however, led to the parish’s decision to remove the towers in 1939. The east tower, which houses the church bells, was shortened to its current height, and the west tower was removed.

About Father Patrick Ryan:

It is impossible to discuss the Cathedral here without also discussing Father Patrick Ryan.  Patrick Ryan was born in 1845 near Nenagh, County Tipperary, Ireland. His parents were evicted from their home by a ruthless landlord and forced to emigrate. They settled in New York, where Patrick grew to young manhood.  He had great desire to be a priest and entered St. Vincent’s college, Cape Girardeau, Missouri in October, 1866. Although he was no genius, says one of his schoolmates, he was one of the soundest and most reliable students in the seminary and was noted for his common sense. He was ordained a priest in the summer of 1869 at the Cathedral in Nashville by Bishop P. A. Feehan. The Feehan and Ryan families were close neighbors in Ireland and possibly this was the reason young Ryan decided to join the Nashville diocese.

After his ordination, Father Ryan was appointed pastor of Clarksville and its missions. For three years the young priest faithfully ministered to the people of Clarksville, Cedar Hill, Edgefield Junction and the surrounding territory. At Gallatin he built a church, which served the congregation for many years.

Bishop Feehan transferred him to the larger city of Chattanooga on July 10, 1872. In the six years that he was at the parish, he enlarged the little frame church, built a rectory on Georgia Avenue and zealously tended his flock. He also was responsible for the opening of Notre Dame academy under the direction of the Dominican Sisters. When a Yellow Fever epidemic broke out in 1878, many in the city considered themselves safe as they had avoided such epidemics in the past. he stayed with his flock and died from the disease in 1878 at the age of 33.

He is described as almost impetuous in his efforts to make his parishioners practical as well as professing Catholics. Having recovered somewhat from the ravages of war, Chattanooga was growing by leaps and bounds. In the decade from 1870-1880, the population increased from 6,093 to 12,892.


Finding the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Chattanooga:

Address:  214 E. 8th Street, Chattanooga, Tennessee 37402

Tel: +1 423-266-1618

Click here for the official website of the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Chattanooga, Tennessee (there is a great video on the website describing the magnificent stained glass windows in the Basilica)

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