The Cathedral Church of Saint Mary in Sussex Street served the diocese well for over 100 years, being the spiritual home of five bishops and many thousands of the faithful. It was built between 1876 and 1878 on the site of the old St. Mary’s chapel which, in spite of two major enlargements during its thirty years of life, had failed to keep pace with the growth in the Catholic population of Middlesbrough and by the mid 1870’s was considered to be ‘unsuited to the dignity of religion.’ The new St. Mary’s Church was dedicated in August 1878 and early the following year became the Cathedral of the New See of Middlesbrough.
In due course the tide of social change that had necessitated the establishment and development, in turn, of chapels, church and Cathedral began to flow in other directions and by the mid 1970’s St. Mary’s parish population was down to some 1,500, a mere tenth of the population of 100 years before. Rehousing plans that followed the second World War had moved most of the people living near the Cathedral to new development areas. In Middlesbrough alone 7 new parishes were set up. This transfer of people became so great that in 1976 Bishop McClean decided to build a new Cathedral in Coulby Newham where many people were planning to settle and a church of some size was needed. On 11th October, 1976, Monsignor O’Sullivan, V.B., Administrator of the original Cathedral informed the Civic Authorities of this plan.
Unfortunately, both Bishop McClean and Monsignor O’Sullivan died in 1978 before the plan could be implemented. After more than 5 years of consultation, negotiation and planning the Diocesan Finance and Property Committee, meeting on 16th October 1984, unanimously advised Bishop Harris to go ahead and implement Bishop McClean’s plan.
No doubt the Committee was helped to make this decision by the serious deterioration in the fabric of the church which by 1984 had reached such a stage that a surveyor reported that ‘the building must now be considered to be approaching the end of its practicable and economic life.’
The Bishop has moved his chair, or Cathedra, the symbol of his ecclesiastical authority, to the New Cathedral from where he now presides over the liturgy of the diocese. It is the Cathedra, the Greek word for Chair, that gives a Cathedral both its name and its substance. The building itself has no special ecclesiastical significance whatever its architectural importance; in the same way it is not the house that makes a home.
The original cathedral sadly burnt down in May 2000.