[The centennial anniversary of the dedication of the Cathedral of the Madeleine is August 15, 2009. The story posted here inaugurates a monthly series of historical pieces by diocesan archivist Gary Topping celebrating the Cathedral. The series will run throughout the centennial year.]
One of the more interesting stained glass windows in the Cathedral of the Madeleine is the Visitation window on the west side. Archbishop Robert J. Dwyer, who grew up and was ordained in the Cathedral, recalled wondering, as a boy, what the dedication, "In MemY of P. Phelanorphans" meant. Even when one learns that "Phelan" and "Orphans" are two separate words jammed together in the limited space for the dedication, the mystery persists. What's the story?
Patrick Phelan was an Irish boy who came to the United States in 1849 and followed the Gold Rushers to California in 1850. In 1866 he migrated to the Montana mines where he met his lifelong business associate, Stephen Hays. In 1872 he moved to Salt Lake City and mined part time at Alta. It is not known how well he did in mining, but he must have made at least some money, because in June, 1873 he opened a store for the miners in Bingham Canyon. Hays sold a business in Salt Lake City and joined Phelan in the partnership Phelan & Hays.
Father Denis Kiely, Vicar General of the Diocese of Salt Lake, remembered Phelan in an Intermountain Catholic obituary as an extraordinarily generous man: "I have known numberless instances where he would send aid to persons in need, and always with the injunction that nothing be said about it. . . . He studied to make others happy, and his joy was to learn that he succeeded." Phelan never married, and in his will he continued his generosity by donating his estate to the diocese to be used in support of St. Ann Orphanage. He died on October 7, 1901, and on July 20, 1904 Bishop Lawrence Scanlan formed a corporation called the Phelan Fund to administer the $78,593.07 Phelan had left behind.
The Phelan fortune was a diversified portfolio mostly consisting of cash, real estate, and stocks and bonds. Much of the ongoing endowment for the orphanage came from rents from the various properties, so the Phelan Fund was largely a real estate management firm. Although it lost some money at one point when a property on which it held a bond defaulted, the fund more than recouped its losses in 1916 when it sold one of its properties, the "White House Corner" at the intersection of 2nd South and Main Streets to Thomas Kearns for $350,00.
During the construction of the Cathedral, the "Phelan Orphans" (more likely the Holy Cross Sisters who ran the orphanage) decided to return some of the Phelan money to fund one of the stained glass windows in perpetual memory of their great benefactor. The window, like all the windows in the nave of the church, cost $1,000.
When the orphanage closed in the early 1950s and became St. Ann School, the Phelan money was given to Catholic Charities, which became our present Catholic Community Services. So the generosity of Patrick Phelan lives on. Please remember that great and humble Catholic layman and say a prayer of thanksgiving for him whenever you see the "Phelanorphans" window.