Idaho, The Catholic Church in
IDAHO, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
The first Catholic influence within the territory of the present-day Diocese of Boise, which comprises the entire state of Idaho, came with French-Canadian fur trappers during the mid-18th and early 19th centuries. In the early 1800s, a band of Iroquois migrated from eastern Canada to Idaho, bringing with them the rudiments of the Catholic religion; they often spoke of the necessity of having "Black Robes" to teach them the way to Heaven. In spite of four journeys made by members of the Flathead and Nez Perce tribes to St. Louis, Missouri, to plead for a priest, none came until February 1840. At that time a Belgian Jesuit, Pierre Jean de smet, was appointed superior of the Rocky Mountains Mission. He celebrated the first Mass in Idaho on July 22, 1840, at Henrys Lake, near the western end of what is today Yellowstone Park.
The first Catholic Church in Idaho was built in 1843 by Father Nicholas Point, S.J., on the St. Joe River, near the present Idaho town of St. Maries. Though it was originally called Sacred Heart, it is popularly known as the Cataldo Mission, named after a much-loved Jesuit missionary, Father Joseph Cataldo. The church was opened for services in 1853 and is the oldest building still standing in Idaho. These early missionaries had some success in making converts among the various tribes of Native Americans. Nevertheless, after the discovery of gold in the Boise Basin caused an influx of prospectors and miners into the southern part of the state, the Catholic population became predominantly Irish, many of whom moved to Idaho from the exhausted gold mines of California.
Idaho a vicariate apostolic, a jurisdiction that also included some parts of what are now Montana and Wyoming. The first vicar apostolic was Louis Aloysius Lootens, a Belgian and a priest of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. At the time, Catholics numbered a little over seven percent, or 1,500, of the state's population of about 20,000, many of whom left in the early 1870s with the end of the gold rush. Bishop Lootens resigned in 1875, and returned to Oregon, where he had previously served as a missionary. He died on Jan. 12, 1898. The vicariate was then placed under the administration of the archbishops of Oregon City (now Portland). A new vicar apostolic for Idaho, Alphonse Joseph Glorieux, also a Belgian, was not appointed until Oct. 7, 1884. On his arrival, he found that the entire vicariate consisted of only two secular priests, four Jesuits, eight nuns, and a widely scattered Catholic population of about 3,500 people.
By the time Glorieux was consecrated bishop in Baltimore in 1885, the territory of the vicariate had been restructured by the Holy See to its present boundaries. He made Boise City his see city and established the parish church of St. John the Evangelist as his cathedral. In 1893, when the Catholic population had doubled to 7,000, Boise City was established as a diocese and Bishop Glorieux was appointed its first ordinary. The passage of the Homestead Act (1862) and similar laws, as well as the building of the transcontinental railroad, opened up vast tracts of former Native American lands to settlement. Many of these settlers were German Catholics from the Midwest, eager for religious training for their large farm families. Now with sufficient population, Idaho became the 43rd state to enter the Union, on July 3, 1890.
Bishop Glorieux's successor, Iowan Daniel Mary Gorman (1918–1927), presided over a time of rapid growth in the diocese. By the end of his nine-year tenure, the cathedral had been completed to its present size (1921), there were 32 more diocesan priests, and twice as many students in the parochial schools. The growth continued under the long episcopate of Bishop Edward J. Kelly (1928–1956), resulting in the building of 41 churches, and the construction or purchase of 26 rectories, 4 convents, and 10 additional schools. Those schools were staffed almost entirely by Benedictine Sisters, who established their motherhouse near Cottonwood in 1907. They staffed their first school at Genesee in 1896 and grew in numbers and influence until 1968, when they were teaching in 15 elementary schools. Membership in the order peaked in 1967, when they counted 183 Sisters. At the urging of Popes Pius XII and John XXIII, and after a year of intense preparation, Sisters from St. Gertrude's joined other Benedictines in 1963 in an educational mission venture at San Carlos, Bogotá, Colombia. They later worked at Colegio Santa María and at Colegio San Benito, where they also opened a dependent priory in order to foster local vocations. The final member of the order serving in Colombia returned to the States in 1989. During the mission period several priests of the diocese also served in Colombia.
One of the many outstanding members of the community was Sister M. Alfreda Elsensohn, O.S.B. (1897–1989), a noted natural scientist, historian, and writer. She published Pioneer Days in Idaho County (v. 1, 1947; v. 2, 1951), Idaho Chinese Lore (1970), and Idaho County's Most Romantic Character: Polly Bemis (1980). During her teaching career she cataloged the flora of the prairie and began a collection of natural science specimens and artifacts that is preserved at the Historical Museum at St. Gertrude's. She received the Governor's Award, a special recognition in the arts and humanities from then-Governor Don Samuelson, and membership in the American Association of Museums, the Idaho Writers League, the Idaho Academy of Science, the Northwest Scientific Association, and the American Benedictine Academy.
During Kelly's episcopacy, hospitals and other buildings were erected or enlarged throughout the diocese, including a chancery office building in Boise. At the death of Kelly, who was the first native of the Pacific Northwest to be appointed a bishop, James J. Byrne, the auxiliary bishop of St. Paul, Minnesota, was named the ordinary (1956–62). In 1958 Bishop Byrne established a diocesan newspaper, the Idaho Register, which became the largest weekly in the state, with a circulation of 16,000. During his short administration the Catholic population increased to over 44,000.
The fifth bishop, Sylvester Treinen (1962–88), had been a priest of the Diocese of Bismarck, North Dakota. He attended three sessions of Vatican Council II and returned to Idaho, endeavoring to implement the decrees of the council there. Initiatives under his leadership included the establishment of a new Catholic Education Office, the Idaho Catholic Liturgical Commission, the Search Program for youth retreats, the Catholic Communication Center, and Catholic student centers at each of Idaho's three state universities. In 1978 the diocese acquired 15 acres near the western boundary of Boise for Nazareth Retreat Center, a place for spiritual growth and renewal. Bishop Treinen served as ordinary for 34 years, the longest episcopacy in the history of the diocese.
The sixth bishop of Boise, Tod David Brown, a Californian, was ordained and installed in 1989, remaining in the state until he was appointed the third bishop of Orange, California, in 1998. Bishop Brown presided over sweeping administrative and financial changes in the Diocese of Boise. His successor in 1999, the seventh bishop, was Michael P. Driscoll, also of California. His early efforts focused on a local response to "Our Hearts Were Burning within Us," a document from the U. S. Catholic Bishops calling for adult education, and on the formation of Catholic Charities in the diocese.
Religious Communities. Since its organization into a vicariate apostolic, several congregations of women and men religious have come to Idaho and have served its people in important ways, initially concentrating in education and health care ministries. The Holy Cross Sisters were the first to arrive, opening a school in Idaho City in 1868. Franciscan Sisters conducted St. Aloysius Academy in Lewiston from 1884 to 1887. They were followed by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet (1903), Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters (1903), Benedictine Sisters (1904), Ursulines (1908), and the Sisters of Mercy (1916). In addition to the Jesuits, Salvatorian, Redemptorist, Marist, and Oblate of Mary Immaculate priests have served in Idaho over the years. Monks occupied St.
Michael's Benedictine Monastery at Cottonwood from 1904 to 1924.
Thirteen different religious communities of women were represented at the beginning of the third millennium, working in a variety of ministries: education, migrant services, hospital chaplaincies, retreat work, parish work, and others. Only the Benedictine Monastery of St. Gertrude, with its 58 members, had a numerically large presence. They continued the Benedictine mission to transform the world through prayer, community, and service, and are especially active in retreat work.
Other groups represented at the end of the twentieth century were the Congregation of Sisters of the Holy Cross (5); Dominican Sisters of Edmonds, Washington (1); Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa, Wisconsin (1); Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration (2); Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist (7); Marymount Hermitage (2); Sisters of Providence (1); Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi (1); Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet (3); Sisters of the Holy Name (2); the Society of Sisters for the Church (1); and the Ursulines (5). At the same time, there were only 14 men religious, most of whom were members of the Benedictine Monastery of the Ascension in Jerome, founded in 1968.
Catholic Education. In 2000 the Church in Idaho was maintaining 13 Catholic grade schools, located in Coeur d'Alene, Grangeville, Lewiston, Moscow, Idaho Falls, Rupert, Twin Falls, Nampa, Pocatello, and Boise (4). They had a total enrollment of 2,478 students, and were staffed primarily by Catholic laywomen, and not by Sisters, as in previous years. The diocese operated a single Catholic high school, Bishop Kelly, in Boise, with an enrollment of 672. There were no Catholic colleges, but seven Catholic student centers were in operation for the benefit of college and university students throughout the state. Moreover, Catholic education was extended to over 7,000 grade school children, more than 3,000 high school students, and some 3,000 adults. The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults had been firmly established throughout the diocese, and was the principal vehicle for the formation of new Catholics.
In 1996 the permanent diaconate program was begun. The first class of 17 candidates was ordained in 2001, and a new class was scheduled to begin later in the year. LIMEX, an extension program offering a master's degree in theology from Loyola University in New Orleans, and After-Renew programs were in operation at parish and deanery levels. Parish efforts at adult education were extensive, though local offerings were sometimes uneven. The diocese continued its leadership role in trying to overcome these types of inequities, especially through the use of the Instrument of Growth Survey.
The knights of columbus, catholic daughters of america, and the national council of catholic women were the most prominent among the lay Catholic organizations in existence. These organizations performed many works of service in the diocese while building community with Catholics in other states and nations. Membership in many of these organizations declined in the 1990s in light of the changing nature of ministry in parishes and the nearly universal entry of women into the workplace.
Catholic Charities of Idaho, seeking to develop social services throughout the Diocese of Boise, was incorporated in 2000. Services have included individual, marriage, and family counseling; outreach and development assistance to the Hispanic population of Idaho; family and youth support services; advocacy for social justice; and consultation services in order to assist Catholic parishes to develop parish-based social ministries programs.
In the 2000 census, the population of Idaho was approximately 1,350,000, and the Catholic population had risen to somewhere between 10 and 11 percent, making it the state's second-largest religious group after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons. Among Catholics, slightly fewer than 70 percent were Caucasian. Hispanics, a growing population, came to constitute the next-largest ethnic group in the state, particularly in south, where migrant laborers came to work in the irrigated agricultural industry and have remained. Hispanics comprised about 7 percent of the general population of the state and about 50 percent identified themselves as Catholics. Spanish Masses were being offered wherever the size of the Spanish-speaking population indicated they were needed. Other ethnic groups included the Basques, who emigrated early in the twentieth century mainly to work in the sheep industry, Native Americans, Southeast Asians, and a small number of African Americans.
The diocese, divided into six deaneries, includes 55 parishes, 32 chapels, and 24 stations, served by approximately 80 priests and 29 deacons. Fifteen seminarians were preparing for service in the Diocese of Boise in 2001. Despite the decline in farm and small-town populations in the north and north central deaneries due to the scaling back of resource-based industries such as mining and timber harvesting, major growth in the state has taken place in the south and southwestern parts of the state during the 1990s. As the possessor of the nation's fifthfastest-growing economy, the state attracted young professionals to jobs in high-tech industries. Among other industries that contributed to the state's economy were agricultural processing, chiefly potatoes, and recreation.
Bibliography: c. bradley and e. j. kelly, History of the Diocese of Boise, 1863–1952 (Boise, Idaho 1953). z. chedsey and c. frei, Idaho County Voices (Grangeville, Idaho 1990). m. a. elsensohn, Pioneer Days in Idaho County, v. 1 (Cottonwood, Idaho, 1978). m. l. nachtsheim, On the Way: The Journey of the Idaho Benedictine Sisters (Cottonwood, Idaho 1997).
[c. j. frei]