There's a difference of opinion between Cathedral rector Rev. William Pape and some of his flock:

* "A lot of people think of this as `The Cathedral' and not a parish," claim Joan and Joseph Shea, parishioners since 1968. "People outside the parish think of it as a building and go there just for special occasions, but we have a regular parish."

* "What we fight is just the opposite," Father Pape argues. "Many people just view [this] as a parish church: `That's the Cathedral parish.' The Cathedral serves the role of being the mother church of the Diocese -- and it's also a parish."

That said, the rector was quick to point out that the Cathedral parish community is vibrant and active, with a massive amount of outreach to the poor, a unique music ministry and dedicated teachers of religious education.

Parish life

Margaret O'Brien, who joined the parish in 1950, pitches in at parish bake sales, golf tournaments and garage sales; heads the hospitality committee; works with the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the food pantry; and raises funds for the diocesan Capital Campaign, the Bishop's Appeal and the Cathedral's restoration fund.

"The Cathedral is a very warm place, even for the size of it, and the people are warm, too," she remarked. "I don't even live in the area any more, and [that warmth is] why I go there."

Administrative assistant Cecelia Charles is in the perfect position to note the comings and goings of parishioners. She reported that a lot of young families are joining Cathedral parish of late, many of them volunteering for various ministries, as well.

"We had five baptisms last Sunday!" she boasted.

Ups and downs

In the Cathedral's 150-year history, those statistics have waxed and waned. Father Pape told The Evangelist that in the early 1960s -- which he considers the Cathedral's heyday -- the parish boasted more than 3,000 households.

At its lowest point, during the construction of the Empire State Plaza in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the rolls dropped to only 300 families. The construction "displaced thousands and thousands of families," said Father Pape.

But the Cathedral bounced back. Today, about 600 households (1,000 Catholics) belong to the parish, half of them from outside its geographic boundaries. The rector noted that the parishioners live in more than 50 zip codes.

New and old

Many parishioners are new to the area, coming to Albany for state jobs or an education. The influx has lowered the average age of parishioners to 42, something Father Pape called a "healthy sign" that the parish is thriving.

Meanwhile, older parishioners, like the Sheas, don't see the need to go anywhere else. For 21 years, the couple lived in Clarksville, far outside the city, but still traveled back to Cathedral every Sunday.

"It was our parish," said Mrs. Shea, sounding puzzled at the idea of changing. "It's like a family. You sit in the same pew every Sunday, with the same people around you. It's just like coming home -- you feel like you belong there."

Notable program

The Sheas are two of the many parishioners heavily involved in the parish's massive social outreach ministry. Cathedral parish serves more than 10,000 needy people per year with food, clothing and other services.

Father Pape said that as the Diocese's "mother church," he hopes the Cathedral can model this ministry for other parishes.

"We have one of the highest individual giving rates -- more than $20 [per week]," he added. "I think that's very good, considering 49 percent of us live in the inner city."

Program of notes

The rector believes it's also important for the Cathedral to model the best music for worship in the Diocese. Seventy people were interviewed before the current music director, Wm. Glenn Osborne, was hired.

The music director is entrusted with building up the choir's repertoire, encouraging congregational singing and hosting a concert series at the Cathedral.

"Glenn Osborne is the seventh music director and reminds me I'm the tenth rector, so they have more stability than we do," Father Pape joked.

Much to do

"There's a lot going on," the rector said of all the Cathedral's ministries. "A lot more needs to happen. We look forward to the day when we have the inside restored and renewed, and the seating is more comfortable for long sermons and concerts!"

Father Pape sees an economic and racial diversity in the parish that makes all people feel accepted there. He also pointed out that three to five people become Catholics every year at the Cathedral parish and credited parishioners' welcoming attitude.

The role of Cathedral parish, he always tells parishioners, is "to stay `at home,' and keep the house ready for our brothers and sisters in the Diocese -- and welcome everybody in the Diocese."