Did You Know?

St. Patrick's cathedral

Did you know that the architect of St. Patrick’s Cathedral was James Renwick Jr. (Class of 1836)?

Renwick (1818–95), whose father was an engineer, architect and professor of natural philosophy at Columbia, entered the College at 12 and studied engineering. He earned a master’s in 1839. His first major commission, at 25, was to design Grace Church in New York City, and three years later, he won a competition to design the Smithsonian Institution Building in Washington, D.C.

His best-known work, however, is St. Patrick’s, built in a Gothic revival style with German and French influences. Renwick was commissioned by Archbishop John Hughes in 1853 as the cathedral’s architect and construction began in 1858. Progress halted during the Civil War but the cathedral opened in May 1879 and was formally consecrated in 1910.

On September 14, 2015, during his visit to New York City, Pope Francis delivered the homily during a vespers service in St. Patrick’s. He was the fourth pontiff to visit the cathedral, following in the footsteps of Pope Paul VI (1965), Pope John Paul II (1979 and 1995) and Pope Benedict XVI (2008). Prior to Pope Francis’ visit, St. Patrick’s underwent a three-year, $177 million renovation that included conserving and replacing exterior marble and cleaning, stabilizing and conserving 3,700 stained-glass panels and the plaster, wood and masonry interior.