About Kerk Street Church
The foundation stone was blessed and laid by Bishop Jolivet O.M.I. is this small stone that has been now transferred to the Cathedral and set into the wall at the main entrance in Saratoga Avenue.
The details of that ceremony will be of interest to us of the next generation. The date was Sunday June 7th. Solemn High Mass was sung that morning in the Convent School Hall in End Street by Fr. Van Laar with Fathers de Lacy and Tresch as Deacon and Sub-deacon. His Lordship presided and after the Mass administered Confirmation to some forty candidates. At 3.30 p.m. a large crowd gathered within the walls of the new Church, and two stones, one for the Church and another for the Presbytery, were blessed and placed in position by the Bishop. In his speech Fr. Van Laar spoke of how fitting it was that the pioneer missionary in the Transvaal, His Lordship, should have performed this ceremony and expressed the regret of all present at the unavoidable absence of Fr. Schoch to whose zeal and organising ability the erection of the buildings were due. Fr. Schoch was away in German West Africa preparing for the arrival of the first Oblate Missionaries.
We are told that over £300 was placed by the people on the foundation stone towards the Building Fund.
On Sunday, November 15th the new Church dedicated under the title of the Immaculate Conception was solemnly opened. Bishop Anthony Gaughren O.M.I, of Kimberley, performed the ceremony and preached.
A third ceremony took place on June 27th of the following year, the solemn blessing and inauguration of the new organ. This time Fr. Schoch was present and paid tribute to the excellent work of the choir under Mr. J. P. O’Rielly in their rendering of the Church’s music and through whose efforts the funds for the new organ had been collected.
Such were the beginnings of the Kerk St. Pro-Cathedral which for over sixty years has been the Mother Church of the city and whose memories will be forever imprinted upon the minds of tens of thousands of Catholics throughout South Africa.
Plans for Cathedral
With the establishment of the Union of South Africa, conditions generally became more permanent. Johannesburg, due to the development of the many mines, grew rapidly into a town, then a city extending itself into new suburbs on every side. It became increasingly difficult for the priests to keep up with the expansion; however, small Churches were established to meet the needs of the growing population both European and non-European.
Meanwhile the idea of a Cathedral to replace the temporary edifice in Kerk Street was not lost sight of but like every Mother, the Pro-Cathedral sacrificed itself for her young. It is true to say that had the Bishop acted otherwise many opportunities of excellent sites and subsequent facilities for our people would have been lost.
A motor car drive from Clarendon Circle in either a north easterly or north westerly direction, and the pin pointing of our Churches, Convents, Colleges and Institutions today is proof positive of the wisdom of the pioneer priests. While the collection of funds for a Cathedral had commenced before the turn of the century it was only in 1937, on the occasion of the celebrations for the Golden Jubilee of Johannesburg’s first Mass, that Bishop D. O’Leary made known his ambitious plans for a Cathedral, on the Kerk Street site.
The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 meant the postponement of his ideas and before it was over Bishop O’Leary sold half of the Kerk Street block with a view to purchasing a more central site for the Cathedral.
It is to his successor, Bishop W. P. Whelan, now Archbishop of Bloemfontein, that we owe the debt of gratitude for purchasing the site on Saratoga Avenue, just off End Street, well served by the City Transport, with facilities for parking and with a commanding position below the Berea.
Meanwhile the task of building up a sum of money for the Cathedral Fund was redoubled and here tribute must be given to Very Rev. Fr. J. G. Braniff, Administrator, for his untir|ng and most successful efforts in this direction. Bishop Whelan entrusted the plans for a Cathedral on the new site to Mr. Gregory of Belfast, Northern Ireland.
In 1954 came the news of the appointment of His Lordship to be Archbishop of Bloemfontein and the transfer of Bishop Boyle from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg. Almost from the date of his arrival Bishop Boyle was most enthusiastic about the building of the Cathedral as soon as possible.
Various changes were made in the former plan, undertaken by Mr. Gregory’s son, Mr. Brian Gregory B.A., A.R.I.B.A., M.R.I.A., and all the preliminaries having been gone through, the foundation stone of the Cathedral was laid by Bishop O’Leary, and blessed by Bishop Boyle on June 29th, 1958, the Centenary Year of the Apparitions of Our Blessed Lady at Lourdes. On that occasion Bishop Boyle remarked how fitting it was that the ceremony should take place on the feasts of Saints Peter and Paul. “As this building is for us a confession of faith in the Divinity of Christ, of trust in His promises, an indication of our love and sign of our loyalty, as a practical proof we are erecting our Cathedral to His honour and glory.
“We are particularly happy to have with us today and to take an active part in this ceremony, Bishop O’Leary whose desire it always had been to have a Cathedral in this city and we are indeed happy that he will have this desire realised,” concluded His Lordship. Alas it was not to be. Within a few weeks following this ceremony Bishop O’Leary passed to his reward. His remains are to be reinterred in the crypt of the Cathedral.
During the last two years the work of building has gone on continually. Every Catholic and many other citizens too, have taken an interest in the progress made and as the shell of the edifice reached completion it was with pride that all looked forward to the opening ceremony.
This then is the story of the Cathedral of Christ the King in our City. Elsewhere in this brochure there are detailed descriptions and explanations of its many features. Here is a story of visions and dreams, of untold sacrifices, that with God’s help has been brought to reality.
As we of our time feel grateful to the pioneers so future generations will, we trust, offer a fervent prayer for the part we have played and in turn through the years they will enhance, embellish and ultimately complete this House of God in the City of Gold.
Let us hope we have fulfilled the promise made by Father Schoch over sixty years ago “Later on we might do the beautiful and the grand and then we mean to do it right well.”