Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is the largest Catholic church building in the United States and was, for a brief time, the largest church of any denomination in the Western Hemisphere. Its prominence comes from its location in the national capital, as well as from its association with John Carroll, the first Catholic Archbishop in the United States. Carroll, a signed of the Declaration of Independence, famously offered his blessing on the new nation naming Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception as its patron.
The construction of the church began just after World War I, with a friendly rivalry taking place between it and the Washington National Cathedral being built across town. It was completed in 1961, and for a brief period was the largest completed church in the United States. It remains the largest Catholic church in America. Interestingly, it is not the seat of the Archdiocese of Washington, which is why it is not designated as a cathedral. It was, however, elevated to the position of a minor basilica in 1990.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
New York City, New York
St. Patrick’s Cathedral is one of the largest and most important churches in the United States; and thanks to its incomparable location on Fifth Avenue in the heart of New York City, it is without rival the most visited, and overcrowded, church in America. The site of the cathedral began humbly as home to a community of Trappist monks and later an orphanage. During the early 19th century, large numbers of Catholic immigrants, especially from Ireland, necessitated the construction of a major new cathedral. In 1850 New York became an Archbishopric, and work began on the new church a few years later. It was substantially completed in 1878.
St. Patrick’s was the largest church in the Americas at the time of its completion, and remains to the present day the second tallest. Thanks to its immense and spectacular façade, the cathedral manages to dominate its stretch of Fifth Avenue in the face of encroaching, modern-day skyscrapers. It is perhaps most famous for hosting the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade every March 17th, one of the largest annual Catholic feast celebrations in America. St. Patrick’s has also hosted among the highest number of papal visits of any cathedral in the United States.
Cathedral of St. Paul
St. Paul, Minnesota
The Cathedral of St. Paul, along with the Basilica of St. Mary, one of the co-cathedrals of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. It is the largest church in America outside of New York City and Washington DC. It was founded in 1841 and was one of the first major permanent church buildings in the American northwest. By 1888, the Roman Catholic Church had grown so large in the region that Minneapolis-St. Paul was established as an archdiocese, and new cathedrals were ordered for both cities. The first to be completed was St. Paul’s, affirming it as the mother church of the archdiocese.
St. Paul’s opened in 1915, and for a brief period was America’s second largest church. It continues to be the third largest Catholic church building in the United States, and remains one of the largest overall as well as the fourth tallest. Its iconic feature is a massive copper dome, considered one of the finest in America. In 2009 the Cathedral of St. Paul was designated the National Shrine of the Apostle Paul, the only church so designated in the United States.