Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul, Providence, Rhode Island, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul
Location: Providence, Rhode Island, USA
Date of visit: Saturday, 27 April 2019, 8:00am

The building

The cathedral is the mother church for the Diocese of Providence and was designed in the Roman Gothic style by the famous 19th century church architect Patrick Charles Keely, who was responsible for hundreds of churches throughout the United States. The main altar is built of Verde Issoire, a green marble quarried in the French Alps. Green marble trim can also be found along the walls and on the interior columns along the nave. A Gothic ribbed and vaulted ceiling of wood tops off the nave, with the areas between the ribs painted in various scenes. Stained glass windows of antique Munich glass portray scenes from both the Old and New Testaments. The east and west rose windows and the great circular window are also impressive. In the west transept is a large granite sarcophagus, where rest the earthly remains of Bishop Thomas Francis Hendricken, first bishop of Providence.

The church

The cathedral sponsors religious education classes and Bible study. Their schedule of services includes daily and Sunday masses, vespers, the Rosary, and exposition and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. The cathedral is also a popular venue for weddings.

The neighborhood

Providence, the capital of Rhode Island, is one of the oldest cities in the United States. Founded in 1636 by Baptist preacher Roger Williams, it was known as a sanctuary for religious freedom. Williams himself had been exiled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for advocating ‘freedom of conscience,’ which the Puritans considered ‘a new and dangerous idea.’ To this day, the official name of the State of Rhode Island is ‘Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.’ By the turn of the 20th century, Providence had become one of the wealthiest cities in the country due to its manufacturing base. But as manufacturing waned, urban decay set in, and today Providence struggles to revitalize itself. They must be doing something right, though, as the city is said to have the most coffee and doughnut shops per capita of any city in the United States. The church is in downtown Providence near Interstate 95, from which it can be seen. There are a few apartment buildings nearby.

The cast

A priest, three seminarians serving at the altar in cassock and surplice, an organist, a reader, and a habited nun serving as an additional extraordinary minister.

What was the name of the service?

Mass for the Diocesan Men's Conference.

How full was the building?

About 200 attendees of the conference.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

We had all been greeted downstairs.

Was your pew comfortable?

It was a typical church pew, as comfortable as I expected it to be.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet and reverential.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Worship resource by Oregon Catholic Press with the readings in the front and hymns in the back.

What musical instruments were played?

Very nice pipe organ, which is (interestingly enough) situated at the left hand side of the church near the front – unusual for a Catholic church. It is a mechanical action instrument, Opus 3145 of Casavant Frères Ltd of Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, Canada, installed in 1972.

Did anything distract you?

Two of the seminarians bore a striking resemblance to one another, I kept wondering if they were brothers.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Formal, with the men present fully engaged.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

9 — The priest’s delivery was clear and his message was relevant to modern times.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The priest spoke on how Mary Magdalene came to follow Jesus because she had been cured of seven demons. We all need to be cured of sin.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The organ had a full rich sound.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

I thought the use of extraordinary ministers at communion was unnecessary given the relatively low number of attendees at mass. In addition, as seems to be common in Catholic churches, we sang only a few of the verses of each hymn: two verses of four on the way in, and one of four on the way out. Why the rush?

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

The whole crowd headed downstairs to hear two speakers who had been engaged as part of the Men’s Conference.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Not applicable.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

10 — I would like to visit for a regular Sunday mass. The organ is very rich and the schedule indicates that there is chant at some of the Sunday liturgies.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The unnecessary use of extraordinary ministers.

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