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Gothic Pride: The Story of Building a Great Cathedral in Newark by Brian Regan (review)

From: American Catholic Studies
Volume 125, Number 1, Spring 2014
pp. 60-61 | 10.1353/acs.2014.0006

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by
Gothic Pride: The Story of Building a Great Cathedral in Newark. By Brian Regan. New Brunswick, NJ: Rivergate Books, 2012. 290 pp. $39.95.

inline graphicWhen the Diocese of Newark was founded in 1853, its first bishop, James Roosevelt Bayley, expressed his preference for "a small cathedral," one that was "simple" but "solidly built" (25). In Gothic Pride, Brian Regan tells how that original request gave way to one of the most elaborate and expensive ecclesiastical projects of its time. Constructed between 1898 and 1954, Newark's Cathedral of the Sacred Heart stands as a monument to the ambitions and triumphalism of American Catholicism of that era.

Regan devotes a considerable portion of the book to situating the history of the cathedral within its larger context, including the economic development of Newark, the aspirations of immigrant Catholicism, and the early Gothic revival in mid-nineteenth-century America. As an architectural historian, he is particularly attentive to the plan's stylistic antecedents, drawing attention to the churches in both Europe and the United States that provided models and inspiration for the Newark cathedral.

In his narrative, Regan focuses heavily the strong-willed personalities behind the cathedral project, especially the bishops and diocesan officials who desired a grand edifice and the architects and [End Page 60] contractors they commissioned to bring their vision to life. In particular, he highlights the collaboration between noted local architect Jeremiah O'Rourke and Monsignor George Hobart Doane, the rector of the pro-cathedral and a convert to Catholicism whose family was instrumental in advancing the Gothic Revival within the Episcopal Church. He also tells of the prolonged battles between O'Rourke and the building contractors that arose when cost-cutting measures threatened the integrity of the design.

Regan's narrative makes it clear that the project's completion was never guaranteed. He notes that church officials in Newark were well aware of the financial problems that plagued other cathedral projects of the era, including the one in nearby Brooklyn. More significantly, they had to contend with structural problems related to the weaker-than-expected foundations of the cathedral's supporting piers. Uncertain about the weight they could bear, plans for the towers had to be scaled back significantly. As Regan aptly alludes, with ambition and pride came the potential for catastrophic fall.

Regan discusses the history of the cathedral after its completion only briefly in his epilogue, so the book does not offer a detailed account of the cathedral's role in the life of the diocese. Nor does it provide a detailed description of the windows, carvings, or other decorative elements found within the cathedral, topics covered in cathedral guidebooks. More disappointingly, even though he does include mention of some of the artisans employed for the project, Regan does not provide a detailed account of the lives and experiences of the immigrants and others whose physical labor ultimately "built" the cathedral. Nevertheless, he nicely recounts the saga of the cathedral's design and construction. Those interested in Catholic architecture will enjoy this well-researched and engagingly-written book. [End Page 61]

Thomas Rzeznik
Seton Hall University
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