History of Saint Henry's Cathedral
History of the Catholic Church in Finland
The Catholic Church in Finland is a part of the universal Catholic Church that consists of various local churches operating all over the world and remaining in communion with the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. In this way the Catholic Church forms one dogmatic, liturgical and hierarchical entity while it also assimilates special features and traits of local culture everywhere in the world.
The Catholic Church established itself permanently in Finland in the middle of the XIIth century after the crusade to the southwestern coast of the country in which Bishop Henry of Uppsala (Sweden) took part. The sacrifice of this martyred Bishop bore much fruit, and the position of Christianity in Finland grew stronger and deeper in the following centuries. Dozens of medieval stone churches, and on another plane, the mental and spiritual development of our country during those centuries, are largely the result of work undertaken by the Catholic Church.
After the reformation of the 1520s, professing the Catholic faith was forbidden. Being a Catholic could put one's life at risk. The situation improved only after a couple of centuries. The first Catholic parish in the modern era was established in Viipuri in 1799. Approximately 50 years later church activities were established in Helsinki. After Finland became independent (1917), the Catholic Church in Finland was formed into an Apostolic Vicariate, and in 1955 it was promoted to an independent Diocese.
Saint Henry’s Cathedral
St. Henry’s Cathedral, located in Kaivopuisto, Helsinki, is the seat of the Catholic Bishop of Helsinki. The church was built in 1858-1860 when Finland was a Grand Duchy of Imperial Russia.
At that time a church was needed in Helsinki for Catholic soldiers serving in the Russian army and for merchants and artists who had immigrated to Finland. The building project, initiated by the military chaplain Father Ignatius Gorbacki, was supported by the Italian-born spouse of Governor General Friedrich von Berg, Countess Leopoldina Cicogna (1790-1874).
The church was blessed and taken into use on September 16th 1860, but its consecration was delayed for over 40 years.
Jerzy Szembek, Archbishop of Mohilev (located near St. Petersburg), solemnly performed the consecration of the church on September 14th 1904, the day of the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.
During the Cathedral’s first half century, the parish was tended by Polish priests coming from St. Petersburg. The first Finnish priest in the modern era, Father Wilfrid von Christierson, was the parish priest during the years 1906-1911.
St. Henry’s Church has been the Bishop’s seat since 1920, when the Apostolic Vicariate of Finland was established and our country received its first Catholic bishop since Arvid Kurki, who died in the beginning of the 1520s. The church has been the Cathedral of the Diocese of Helsinki since 1955, the year that Pope Pius XII promoted the Vicariate to an independent Diocese.
Life in the Diocese
In the beginning of the year 2013 there were almost 12,500 registered members in the Catholic Diocese of Helsinki. The amount of members grows by hundreds each year through baptisms, immigration and people joining the Church. Slightly over half of the members are Catholics who have immigrated to Finland, among them many refugees.
Nearly a hundred different nationalities are represented within the Diocese. The liturgical life of the Church plays an important role in uniting all Catholics. In addition to this unifying feature, the significance of pastoral counselling and social work in making Catholic immigrants feel at home in Finland and integrating them into local society cannot be overemphasized. Furthermore, the international nature of the Church helps Finnish Catholics to learn to live in a multicultural community.
There are seven parishes in the Diocese, two of which are in Helsinki. The majority of the clergy have immigrated to Finland. Since the autumn of 2009, the Bishop of the Diocese has been Monsignor Teemu Sippo SCJ.
The Catholic Church in Finland is an officially registered religious community. However it is not entitled to levy church tax and is therefore entirely reliant on the voluntary aid of its members. This is why the clergy, for example, do not receive a salary and the maintenance of the church buildings puts the parishes under a nearly insuperable strain.
The above text is from the leaflet St. Henry’s Cathedral in Helsinki, Finland. Edited by Pentti Hongisto, Diana Kaley, Anu Salminen and Marko Tervaportti. Translated by Miira Mäkelä and Diana Kaley. Copyright © 2010, 2013 Catholic Information Centre.
Read more about the Cathedral here
And here you can see a slideshow of old photos of the Cathedral.