Baker, Diocese of

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Suffragan of the metropolitan See of Portland, Ore., the Baker diocese (Bakeriensis ) comprises 18 counties of Oregon east of the Cascade Mountain Range, an area of 66,826 square miles. In 2001, there were about 36,000 Catholics, approximately nine percent of a total population of 425,650.

The area, originally in the vicariate apostolic of Oregon and then part of the Diocese of Walla Walla (suppressed in 1850), later was placed under the care of the archbishop of Oregon City. It was erected a diocese by Leo XIII on June 19, 1903, and the first bishop, Charles J. O'Reilly, pastor of the Church of Mary Immaculate, Portland, was installed on Sept. 1, 1903. When Charles B. O'Reilly (Jan. 4, 1862Feb. 4, 1923) was named bishop in 1903, he and a number of his priests were unsure whether this frontier diocese would survive. The territory was large but sparsely populated, with only 13 priests. In 1906 the Catholic Extension Society began to make contributions for churches and to provide subsidies for priests and seminarians. Irish Capuchins came in 1910.

In March of 1918, Bishop O'Reilly was transferred to the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb. His successor, Joseph F. McGrath (March 1, 1871April 12, 1950), appointed Dec. 21, 1918, concerned that many children in the sprawling diocese had little religious instruction, established the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. With help from what was then the Catholic Indian and Negro Bureau, new missions were initiated. Because of Bishop McGrath's advanced years, in 1948 the Holy See appointed Bishop Leo F. Fahey as coadjutor with right of succession, but he died March 31, 1950, just days before Bishop McGrath's own death.

Francis P. Leipzig (June 29, 1895Jan. 17, 1981), pastor of St. Mary's Church in Eugene, Ore. and known for his administrative and public relations abilities, became bishop on July 18, 1950. Bishop Leipzig took the lead in constructing a new chancery office, establishing new parishes, and building churches and chapels with the aim of making it possible for Catholics to assist at Mass each Sunday, even in remote areas. The changes after Vatican II caused problems similar to those in Portland.

When Bishop Leipzig retired in May of 1971, he was succeeded by Thomas J. Connolly (July 19, 1922). Bishop Connolly accepted the challenged presented by the widespread diocese by becoming even more mobile than his predecessors. As school closures continued, including the last Catholic high school in the diocese; more effort went into religious education programs. Bishop Connolly encouraged lay ministry in response to the dwindling numbers of priests, and he developed methods for including the laity in decision-making. In 1987 he moved the diocese's administrative offices to Bend, although the Cathedral remained in Baker City.

Bishop Connolly retired in January of 2000 and was succeeded by Robert Francis Vasa, who was consecrated and installed Jan. 26, 2000.

An official diocesan newspaper, the Catholic Sentinel, is published weekly.

Bibliography: d. o'connor, Brief History of the Diocese of Baker City (Baker 1930). w. p. schoenberg, A History of the Catholic Church in the Pacific Northwest 17431983 (Washington, DC 1987).

[p. brandt/eds.]

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Baker, Diocese of

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