Baltimore’s Bishop John Carroll had a decision to make. It was 1805, and the diocese then encompassed the entire U.S. Years before, Pope Pius VI had urged Carroll to build a cathedral church. But what kind of building would it be? And what would it say about American Catholics? His choice would set American Catholicism’s tone for years to come.
Carroll spent decades at the nexus of Catholic and U.S. history. He was the new republic’s first Catholic bishop, appointed in 1789, and a second cousin of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the sole Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. The cathedral would have to be deeply Catholic and unmistakably American.
Eventually the bishop raised enough funds and acquired property on a prominent hill overlooking Baltimore harbor. He rejected a modest Gothic design and adopted an ambitious plan devised by Benjamin Latrobe, son of a Moravian minister and an architect of the Capitol, then being built.
Mr. Weigel is a distinguished senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
This article was originally published on The Wall Street Journal