History & Heritage

Listed on the Canadian Register of Historic Sites and designated a Provincial Heritage Place, The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is so recognized for its historical associations with early Irish immigration in Saint John. Between 1845 and 1847, approximately 30,000 Irish arrived in Saint John, more than doubling the population of the city. During this period, Saint John was second only to Grosse Isle, Quebec as the busiest port of entry for Irish immigrants in British North America.

In 1842, New Brunswick was erected into a diocese with Rev. William Dollard appointed as its first bishop. Pope Gregory XVI was Bishop of Rome and Supreme Pontiff. A 23-year-old Victoria was in her fifth year as Queen of England and Sir Richard Downes Jackson was administrator of Canada West and Canada East.

Journey through the Cathedral’s history with us.

  • 1852 - The growing Catholic population in Saint John can no longer be accommodated in the city’s only Catholic Church – St. Malachi’s Chapel on Sydney Street built 1814-1815. Bishop Thomas Connolly announces plans to build the Cathedral in Saint John. A man of eloquence, passion and determination, Bishop Connolly safely guided the growth of the city’s Catholic population during a time of much religious bigotry and turmoil.
  • 1853 - “Subscriptions” raise nearly £4000. Foundation stone laid, walls erected and roof laid.
  • 1854 - Dogma of Immaculate Conception proclaimed by Pope Pius IX. Cholera epidemic leaves many children orphaned. Bishop Connolly pleads with Sisters of Charity of New York, whose original community was founded by Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, to send religious sisters to Saint John. Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception founded - the first English speaking community of women religious in Canada.
  • 1855 - Celebration of Blessing and First Mass, Christmas Eve
  • 1858 - Pope Pius IX subscribes 2500 francs for construction of the Cathedral.
  • 1860 - Rev. Dr. John Sweeny named new Bishop.
  • 1861 - Bishop’s residence built.
  • 1861-1865 - Cathedral building completed
  • 1871 - Cathedral spire erected to height of 230 feet to top of cross. At 300 feet above sea level, it is the highest point in the city.
  • 1875 - New organ ordered from England; lost at sea in transit.
  • 1876 - New 10-ton organ arrives from England; installed.
  • 1885 - 10-bell carillon wins Gold Medal at New Orleans Exposition, then shipped to Saint John. Installed as a gift of Bishop Sweeny. Blessed Virgin’s Chapel completed. Dedication & solemn consecration of Cathedral.
  • 1901 - Bishop Casey installed. Interior decorations added.
  • 1912 - Bishop Edouard LeBlanc installed as fourth Bishop of Saint John and as the first Acadian ever appointed Bishop by the Vatican.
  • 1914 - St. John Infirmary opens (now St. Joseph’s Hospital).
  • 1920s - Cathedral tower repaired.
  • 1934 - St. Thomas University incorporated.
  • 1936 - Bishop Patrick Bray appointed.
  • 1942 - 100th Anniversary of the Diocese.
  • 1935-53 - Renovations to north transept wall, upper façade & upper sanctuary, new pulpit & sound system, new main altar. Life-size crucifix installed over altar. Shrine to O.L. of Immaculate Conception installed.
  • 1953 - Alfred B. Leverman appointed Bishop.
  • 1953-68 - New altar in the Blessed Virgin’s Chapel, St. Joseph’s Chapel rededicated, marble steps leading to new main altar (post-Vatican II)
  • 1969 - Joseph N. MacNeil appointed Bishop.
  • 1974 - Arthur J. Gilbert appointed Bishop.
  • 1983-84 - Renovations prepare for 100th anniversary of Cathedral.
  • 1985 - 100th Anniversary of the dedication and consecration of the Cathedral.
  • 1986 - Bishop Edward Troy becomes 10th bishop of Saint John.
  • 1992 - 150th Anniversary of the Diocese of Saint John.
  • 1998 - Bishop Faber MacDonald becomes 11th Bishop of Saint John.
  • 1999 - Cathedral spire illuminated, new heating system, some renovations and additions undertaken.
  • 2002 - West wall reconstructed.
  • 2007 - Most Rev. Robert Harris becomes the 12th Bishop of Saint John.
  • 2014 - Multi-phase, multi-year historic Cathedral Restoration & Waterloo Village Revitalization Projects begin

Cathedral mid-1860s

Cathedral from lower Waterloo Street 1890s

Waterloo Street façade of Cathedral

Cathedral interior mid-1940s

St. Joseph’s Chapel mosaic gift of Lebanese community

Late 20th century view of Cathedral at night