The original St. Patrick's was a tiny wooden building founded to serve the spiritual needs of Irish Catholics—a far cry from this elaborate structure. Begun in 1838, it was built around the old one, which was then dismantled. The distinguished architect James Gallier, Sr., designed much of the interior, including the altar. It opened in 1840, proudly proclaiming itself as the "American" Catholics' answer to the St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter (where, according to the Americans, God spoke only in French).