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Parishioners, public can tour bishop’s resting place

Remains of first five bishops now interred in crypt at Cathedral of St. Andrew

Published: April 9, 2014      
Dwain Hebda
A portrait of Bishop Emeritus Andrew J. McDonald watches over the crypt at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock April 7. Bishop McDonald’s space is exposed as workers prepare the marble front in advance of his funeral.

Bishop Emeritus Andrew J. McDonald was laid to rest April 8 alongside other former bishops in a crypt at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock.

It’s a little-known feature of the Cathedral, set off into the northeast corner of the sanctuary. A small brass gate, resurrected from the long-gone Communion rail that was once a feature of the church, guards a staircase that leads to the well-lit, white marble-lined crypt.

Along one wall, eight individual spaces are set into the wall; the four previous bishops — Bishop Andrew Byrne, Bishop Edward Fitzgerald, Bishop John B. Morris and Bishop Albert Fletcher — are interred on the top row of the space, their final resting places marked with large bronze plaques. On one end of the chamber, a single kneeler sits beneath a large crucifix. Small black and white portraits of each former bishop rest on the kneeler.

The crypt used to be located on the southwest corner of the church, basically under the floor of the vestibule to the far right as one enters the Cathedral. According to the memoirs of the late John A. Healey, a local funeral home owner, the original crypt was a nondescript brick space.

The remains of Bishop Byrne, previously interred at Helena, were relocated there Nov. 30, 1881, and the crypt remained in use for 80 years, subsequently to hold the remains of Bishops Fitzgerald and Morris.

Age and elements deteriorated the original crypt; by 1939, water had invaded the space to such an extent that the walls and floor were deteriorating. The new crypt was completed in 1962. 

Margie Pullam, Cathedral docent, said the crypt is a popular part of Cathedral tours, not only for the usual collection of Catholic schoolkids and parishioners from across the diocese, but also art fans and history buffs from all faiths.

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