Our parish was founded in 1921 by Bishop Thomas Sebastian Byrne. Immaculate Conception Church was built, becoming the ninth Catholic Church in Memphis. Named for the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception, the parish would eventually be designated as the Cathedral Parish for the Diocese of Memphis some fifty years later.
The first construction under the founding pastor, Monsignor Dennis J. Murphy, was at the corner of Rozelle Street and Central Avenue. The three-story brick building—which is the Cathedral Elementary School today—accommodated Sunday worship and education. The elementary school was housed on the top floor. The school was staffed by the Sisters of Mercy.
Property was later acquired east of the original structures on Central and south to York Avenue and new construction continued over the next several decades.
Construction on the present church began as a domed-over crypt building in 1927. It served for over a decade until the present “upper church” was completed during the depression. Msgr. Murphy and Richard J. Regan of Regan and Weller Architects studied churches in Chicago for their inspiration. The architectural style is described as Romanesque, Spanish Colonial Revival. When it was dedicated on July 31, 1938, it was said to be the “largest sanctuary in Memphis.” The membership had reached 6,000. The interior decorative designs were added in the late 1940sd by the second pastor, Monsignor Francis D. Grady.
The third pastor, Msgr. Merlin F. Kearney founded Immaculate Conception High School for girls after Catholic High (then all boys) moved to its present location on McLean. The high school buildings east of the church were build in the 1950s and 60s.
On January 6, 1971, Pope Paul VI created the Diocese of Memphis in Tennessee, and appointed the Most Reverend Carroll T. Dozier as the first bishop. Of all the churches in within a diocese, the Cathedral church is preeminent. The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is the principal or “Mother Church” of the Diocese of Memphis. It is the church in which our Bishop has his official chair—the “cathedra” from which he presides as the primary priest, teacher and overseer of all those who, by God’s grace, have been entrusted to his care. The cathedra is in plain view for all to see.
After years of planning, the restored Cathedral was dedicated December 8, 2001 by Bishop J. Terry Steib, S.V.D.
The Cathedral parish today has approximately 800 families and 430 students in its school, Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12.