By Peter Smith
When Father Francis Clement Kelley, an Irish-American who founded the Catholic Church Extension Society in the U.S.A., travelled in ‘frontier territory’ he soon realised that in virtually all the Wild West towns one thing was missing, a church.
Frontier people who had no access to a church could not attend Mass or Confirmation and it was a struggle for them to keep their faith in such isolated communities.
Other churches had the same problem. Some refused to start building churches as their followers may well have moved on before the building was completed. Then, Bishop Walker of the Episcopalian had the idea of using a railroad car as a church. It would be much cheaper than a building and it could be transported to wherever it was needed.
Surprisingly, this wasn’t ‘new’, a railcar, complete with throne room had travelled through Italy’s Papal States and ‘exquisitely adorned’ chapels on wheels had travelled along the route of Russia’s trans-Siberian Railway.
Helped by millionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt’s donation, Bishop Walker’s first mobile chapel, ‘The Cathedral Car’, was delivered in 1890 and during the ten years it was in service it covered over seventy thousand miles.