The Third Cathedral and its First Organ On 6 October 1907, the cornerstone was laid for the third cathedral

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The Third Cathedral and its First Organ On 6 October 1907, the cornerstone was laid for the third cathedral,38 dedicated to the patron saint of music and musicians, Saint Cecilia. In contrast to the Greek Revival style of the “first wave” of American Catholic cathedrals (Baltimore,
32 Kuhlman, 109-110.


Cain, 54. A newspaper clipping celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the Burkley’s cathedral choir mentions specifically the masses of Saverio Mercadante and Franz Joseph Haydn (


Omaha Herald, 14 September 1889, Chancery Archives of the Archdiocese of Omaha).
34 Ibid., 55.

35 Ibid., 57.

36 Elsworth, 110.


Holyoke, page unnumbered. Data collected in 1991 by Edward Holyoke and Randy George.
38 Cain, 55.


St. Louis, Cincinnati), or the


wave of Gothic Revival cathedrals (Boston


Providence, Hartford, Newark, Cleveland, Chicago—and Saint Philomena’s Cathedral in Omaha),39 the architectural style of Saint Cecilia Cathedral was to be Spanish Renaissance Revival (Figure 3).

Figure 4. Saint Cecilia Cathedral, Omaha (Courtesy of Saint Cecilia Cathedral)
39 Kuhlman, 113.

Omaha architect Thomas Rogers Kimball had previously supervised th


design of the “plaster” or “White City” buildings for the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition in 1898, and had boldly presented himself to Bishop Richard Scannell as the best candidate to design Omaha’s new cathedral.40 Kimball had studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris,41 and was imbued with Classical tradition and fundamental Beaux Arts principles that were to “keep him from being stampeded by any passing fads.”42 Louise Joyner notes that Kimball appropriated this education in making an entirely unique proposal on the Great Plains, and perhaps in the United States, even though “Spanish architecture had not figured among the accepted repertoire of eclectic sources for Beaux-Arts trained architects.”43

Kimball convinced Bishop Scannell to accept his bold proposal by arguing that “the relative austerity of the Spanish Renaissance style enabled a tight budget to be kept without having to sacrifice dramatic impact or scale.”44 Kimball further alluded to the opportunity for the Catholic Church to assert its primacy in the region, contending that the first non-indigenous people to come to Nebraska were Spanish
40 Ibid., 115. 41

Joyner, Louise. “Kimball in Context,” in The Beauty of Thy House: The History, Art, and Architecture of Saint Cecilia Cathedral, Omaha, ed. Thomas A. Kuhlman (Omaha: Dorothy Tuma Photography, 2005), 85.

42 Kimball partner William Steele in a 1934 address to the Joslyn Memorial, quoted in Joyner, 86-87.

43 Joyner, 89.

44 Ibid., 90.

and Catholic.45 Omaha’s railroad link to the Pacific further made a case for the Cathedral to be a symbol of a gateway to the West. While Kimball would later take up the “Spanish Mission” style for the new Saint Philomena’s Church in 1909, he seems to have been looking to the European origins of this style in his design of Saint Cecilia Cathedral, and was fully aware of his innovation:46

. . . a Spanish interpretation of the Renaissance is the best way to describe it. The Cathedral is one of the first, if not the first, to be built in the United States strictly following Old Country conventions. 47

The cathedral’s Spanish Renaissance style weighed heavily in our decision to commission Pasi Opus 14. So did an assertion by cathedral liturgist Brother William Woeger, FSC, that the architectural vocabulary for Kimball’s design is nowhere more evident than in the palace-monastery of Philip II near Madrid, El Monasterio de San Lorenzo El Real del Escorial.48 Louise Joyner has since substantiated and expanded this claim, noting in both El Escorial and Saint Cecilia Cathedral the specific elements of classical severity derived from the estilo desornamentado or the “Herreran” style, as well as Italian Renaissance features that entered the vocabulary through Escorial architect Juan Bautista de Toledo (a disciple of Michelangelo), the Mannerist whimsy of Giulio Romano of Mantua, and the much-imitated Serliana
45 Ibid. The explorer Coronado and Padre Juan de Padilla were thought to have come as far north as Nebraska in 1541 looking for Quivira, the “lost kingdom” of gold.

46 Ibid., 91.

47 Thomas Rogers Kimball, quoted in Joyner, 91.

48 Joyner, 91

decorative style of the Venetian Andrea Palladio.49 Stylistic references and specific

correspondences between Pasi Opus 14 and the organs of the Escorial must wait for the forthcoming discussions of the Pasi organ’s commission and its physical and tonal characteristics.50 Let it suffice for now to note that in February 1578, Philip II of Spain commissioned not one, but four large organs from the Flemish organ builder Gilles Brebos for the 1586 dedication of the Escorial basilica.51

At the time it was designed, Omaha’s Saint Cecilia Cathedral was supposed to have been among the ten largest churches in the United States, equal in size to Hereford Cathedral in England.52 With 1,584,000 cubic feet in volume and an ultimate total capacity of 2,500 people, the nave was expected to accommodate comfortably 1,000 and have a normal capacity of 500.53 The cathedral’s outside dimensions measure 255 feet in length, 158 feet in width, and 198 feet in height. On the inside, the nave is 141 feet long, 56 feet wide, and 72 feet high, with an additional ambulatory, circular apse and attached chapels, but no transepts (Figure 4).54
49 Ibid., 91-100. 50 See p. 79. 51 Guy Bovet, trans. Susan FerrŽ, “The ‘Declaration of the Organs...’ (1587) by Diego del

Castillo, or The Four Organs of Gilles Brebos at the Church of Escorial,” Westfield, Vol. XII, No. 1 (Easthampton, MA: Westfield Center, 1999), 1.

52 Cain, 71.

53 Ibid.

54 Ibid.

Figure 5. Footprint of Saint Cecilia Cathedral (Courtesy of Saint Cecilia Cathedral)

In spite of the large interior volume of the cathedral, it is doubtful that the acoustical environment was ever before as favorable for music as it is today. The interior walls and piers were originally red brick and mortar,55 covered at major events like the 1930 Eucharistic Congress with red velvet drapes, gold cloth, flags
55 Kuhlman, 120.

and streamers.56 When the cathedral interior was finished in 1951 under Archbishop

Gerald Bergan, the walls were faced with Minnesota dolomite marble. This addition presumably changed the acoustics for the better, although the advantage was reversed with the covering of the entire ceiling with horsehair acoustical tiles, perhaps because of an emergent need for clarification of speech created by the new acoustic and an electronic public address system. When the nave was empty, the average reverberation time was four seconds; it was considerably less when full.57 A dramatic renovation anticipating the Jubilee Year 2000 saw the restoration of the plaster ceiling, the creation of a bright, polychromatic Iberian decor, 58 and the creation of a previously unrealized acoustical environment characterized by a se ven­second reverberation time when the cathedral is empty and a still-resonant acoustic o f


four seconds reverberation when it is fully occupie

The unfinished Saint Cecilia Cathedral was first used for worship on 21 December 1916 for the installation of Archbishop Jeremiah J. Harty as Bishop of Omaha.60 It was not employed regularly until Sunday, 25 November 1917, after a windstorm had toppled the scaffolding on 21 November, the eve of the Feast of Saint
56 Kuhlman, 120-121.

57 Robert F. Mahoney, Robert F. Mahoney & Associates, Consultants in Architectural Acoustics, Boulder, Colorado, to Paul Jeffrey, Bahr Vermeer & Haecker, Architects, 26 May 1999,

Cathedral Archives, Saint Cecilia Cathedral, Omaha.

58 Kuhlman, 123-124.

59 Mahoney, 26 May 1999.

60 Cain, 80. Harty had been Archbishop of Manila in the Philippines.

Cecilia, and severed in two the former Saint Cecilia Church that stood next to the ne



Casavant Bros. Opus 51

In March 1918, only months after the fateful windstorm, “a magnificent new organ” costing $10,500 was installed in the cathedral, a gift of the Francis J. Burkley family.62 The bronze dedication plaque reads:63




A.D. MCMXVIII. The organ was dedicated in a recital on 16 June 1918, by Father Gregory HŸgle,

O.S.B.64 of Conception Abbey in Missouri,65 a “musician of skill and experience,” who “through the generosity of Mrs. [sic] Frank Burkley” was enabled “to construct [sic] the organ which would serve the highest of religious services.”66 There is no
61 Cain, 82.

62 Cain, 83. Typewritten notes in the Cathedral Archives by Mrs. R. J. Neary dating from February 1940 give the cost of the “organ proper” as $10,000.00, while noting that “the organ case and front, designed by the architect, Thos. R. Kimball, was built and carried out by Joseph Dux of Chicago, and cost approximately $8,000.00.”


Cathedral Chimes

(Omaha), January 1973.

64 Ibid.

65 Laura Ennis, “The New Catholic Bishop Comes to One of the Most Beautiful and Finely Constructed Cathedral Churches in the Entire Country,” Omaha Trade Review III (July, 1928): 10.

66 Cathedral Chimes (Omaha), January 1973. This article inaccurately attributes the donation of the organ to “Mrs. Frank Burkley” (rather than Frank Burkley himself) and the building of the organ to Father HŸgle.

evidence that Father H


gle was actually associated with the organ building firm


Rather, according to the donor of the organ, he acted as “organ consultant.” Frank Burkley writes, “In making a choice of organs I relied largely upon the judgment of Father Gregory, of Conception, Missouri. He is an authority on church organs, for he has been a builder of them.”67

The Father HŸgle’s recital featured “serious” organ music, as well as popular sacred choral and vocal music.68 The program commenced with a concerto in three movements by Filippo Capocci, organist and maestro di cappella at the Roman Basilica of Saint John Lateran around the turn of the twentieth century.69 The Sanctus and Benedictus of Charles Gounod’s Messe Solennelle (Saint Cecilia) followed, sung by the cathedral choir with tenor soloist F. A. Walsh. “The Lost Chord” by Arthur Sullivan was sung by Frank Burkley’s brother, Harry V. Burkley. Then followed organ works by Josef Rheinberger, Horace Wadham Nicholl and Felix Mendelssohn. The event concluded with the singing of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Casavant Opus 51 was the penultimate instrument of the short-lived American branch of the famous Casavant firm, operating in South Haven, Michigan, from 1912
67 Quoted in Ennis, 10.

68 The repertoire noted here is recorded in an unidentified newspaper clipping in folio of Frank J. Burkley, currently in the possession of his great-grandson, Robert Harding of Omaha, Nebraska.

69 Leopold M. Kantner, “Capocci, Filippo,” Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy, (Accessed 14 February 2006),

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