Montana, Catholic Church in
MONTANA, CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
Montana, located in the Rocky Mountain region of the northwest U.S., was admitted to the Union as the 41st state in 1889. The fourth largest state, it is bounded on the north by Canada, on the east by North and South Dakota, on the south by Wyoming and Idaho, and on the
west by Idaho. Helena is the capital, and Billings is the largest city. There are two dioceses in the state: the Diocese of Helena (Helenensis ) and the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings (Magnocataractensis-Billingensis ), both of which are are suffragans of the Metropolitan See of Portland in Oregon. The Diocese of Helena, established in 1884, encompasses the western counties of the state, an area of 51,922 sq. miles, and the Diocese of Great Falls, erected 1904 and redesignated in 1980 as the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings; it consists of the eastern counties, an area of 94,922 sq. miles.
History. The U.S. acquired the eastern two-thirds of the region, an extension of the Great Plains, in the Louisiana Purchase; the predominantly mountainous western third, containing the Continental Divide, passed to the U.S. with the settlement of the Oregon Question. The state contains numbers of Native American tribes, including the more important Gros Ventres, Assiniboine, Blackfoot, Flathead, and Crow tribes, located on reservations under federal supervision.
White fur traders of the Canadian Northwest Fur Company entered Montana either in the late 18th or early 19th century. The first American explorers to enter the region were the members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–06), who spent considerable time in the area on both the outbound and return phases of their journey. Montana was an important sphere of activity in the furtrading era. The Canadian Northwest Company trapped the western and northwestern sectors of the region; while American groups, such as the Missouri Fur Company, the American Fur Company, and the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, ranged over the entire area. After the decline of the fur trade, mining succeeded as Montana's dominant form of economic activity, later it became energy production (natural gas and oil). Cattle raising and wheat farming are also of importance.
Missionary Activity. Catholicism was introduced in Montana when Iroquois moved west with Canadian fur traders and settled among the Flatheads of western Montana (1811–12), giving the latter a primitive idea of the faith. The Flatheads sent four successive expeditions (1831, 1835, 1837, and 1839) to Bp. J. rosati of St. Louis, MO, to obtain the services of missionaries, but lack of available personnel prevented his promising to provide them with services until 1839. In 1840 Pierre Jean de smet, sj, went on an exploratory journey among the natives. One year later he returned with fellow Jesuit priests and lay brothers to establish St. Mary's Mission, thus beginning an era of fruitful Jesuit endeavor among the Native Americans and, later, the whites.
Diocesan Development. Montana became a vicariate apostolic in 1883, and in 1884 the Holy See established the Diocese of Helena, coextensive with the entire territory, with John Baptist brondel, bishop of Victoria, Vancouver Island, Canada, and vicar apostolic of Montana as its first bishop. Until his death on Nov. 3, l903, Brondel labored dilligently to build the diocese among Native Americans, as well as trappers, miners, and other immigrants to the area. When he arrived in l884, there were four diocesan priests, 12 religious priests, 16 churches, four hospitals, two parochial schools, two schools for Native Americans and a Catholic population of 15,000. By l903, the last year of his life, there were 38 diocesan priests, 15 religious priests, 65 churches, eight hospitals, nine parochial schools, ten schools for Native Americans and a Catholic population of 50,000.
Soon after Brondel's death in 1904, his earlier request for a division of the diocese was granted. The eastern two-thirds of the state became the Diocese of Great Falls. Mathias C. Lenihan, pastor in Marshaltown, Iowa, was consecrated the first bishop of the diocese on Sept. 21, l904. At the time, the diocese had 14 priests, 11 parishes, two schools, and four Native American missions. When Lenihan retired in l930, there were 68 priests, 45 parishes, 88 missions, 11 schools, 15 Native American missions, four private academies and eight hospitals to care for a Catholic population of 33,345. In the western section of the state, John P. Carroll of Dubuque, Iowa, became the second bishop of Helena, Dec. 21, l904. Given his academic background as president of St. Joseph College (now Loras College) in Dubuque, IA, it was not surprising that he made Catholic education a high priority. In addition to five high schools, he founded Mt. St. Charles College (now called Carroll College in honor of its founder), which opened in September l910. Two years earlier, Carroll laid the cornerstone for the magnificent Gothic Cathedral of St. Helena in the see city. It was consecrated Jan. 3, l924. Bishop Carroll died later that same year, on Nov. 4, l925. During his episcopacy 32 new parishes were erected.
Meanwhile in eastern Montana, Fr. Edwin V. o'hara, founder and director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference and zealous promoter of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine in the United States, was consecrated the second bishop of the Diocese of Great Falls on Oct. 28, 1930. Given the rural nature of the diocese, O'Hara labored to establish the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine program (CCD) locally in order to meet the religious education needs of children and adults. Working with the Sisters of Providence and the Ursuline Sisters, O'Hara founded the College of Great Falls in September l932. In April l939 O'Hara was named archbishop of Kansas City, MO.
In western Montana, the unexpected death of Bishop Carroll in 1925 left the Diocese of Helena without a bishop until May 22, l927, when Pius XI appointed Fr. George J. Finnigan, C.S.C., provincial of the Congregation of the Holy Cross at Notre Dame, IN, the third bishop of the diocese. He was the first member of his religious congregation in the U.S. to be consecrated a bishop. Before his death, Aug. 14, l932, Finnigan established the CCD program thoughout the diocese and a diocesan newspaper, The Register: Western Montana. On Sept. 23, l933, Fr. Ralph Leo Hayes of Pittsburg, PA, was conse crated the fourth bishop of the diocese. His brief time in Helena ended in l935 when he was appointed rector of the North American College in Rome.
In Great Falls, William J. Condon, vicar general of the diocese of Spokane, WA, was consecrated the third bishop of the diocese on Oct. l8, l939. Until his retirement, Aug. 17, l967, the diocese witnessed a period of remarkable growth. Given the difficulty of caring for a diocese with such a vast territory, he requested the Holy See to grant him an auxiliary bishop, and on Oct. 30, l961, Msgr. Eldon B. Schuster, chancellor of the diocese, rector of the cathedral parish, and the superintendent of schools, was appointed titular bishop of Amblada and auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Great Falls. He was consecrated a bishop on Dec. 21, l961.
Meanwhile, in the Diocese of Helena, Fr. Joseph M. Gilmore, born in New York but raised in Montana from the age of five, was consecrated the fifth bishop of Helena on Feb. 29, l936. To meet the needs of a rapidly growing Catholic population, new and larger facilities were needed, and he immediately began to build and strengthen the institutions of the diocese. Accordingly, a new chancery building, 20 new churches, and six new grade schools and high schools were built. The Cathedral of St. Helena was completely renovated in time for the diamond jubilee of the diocese in l959. His years as bishop were considered by many to be golden building years for the diocese.
When Gilmore died, on April 2, l962, he was succeeded by Raymond G. Hunthausen, president of Carroll College and a native of Montana. He was consecrated the sixth bishop of the diocese on Aug. 30, l962. From l962 to l966, Hunthausen participated in the sessions of the Second Vatican Council where he met Bishop Angelico Melotto of Solala, Guatemala. Although Guatemala was 90 percent Catholic, Bishop Melotto's diocese was experiencing a critical shortage of clergy. Soon after the meeting, Hunthausen opened the Diocese of Helena's mission in Guatemala. In addition, he labored diligently to implement the decrees of the Second Vatican Council throughout the diocese. With the decline in number of vocations to the priestly and religious life, its impact on the schools, hospitals and parishes in the diocese was dramatic. With schools closing, greater emphasis was placed on the CCD program, which had existed for many years in the rural areas of the diocese. In addition, religious education centers staffed by religious, clergy, and laity were set up throughout the diocese. Although the changes were painful for many, Hunthausen's willingness to listen and his intense desire to be faithful to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council made the difficult transition possible. He was appointed archbishop of Seattle on Feb. 25, l975.
In the Diocese of Great Falls, Auxiliary Bishop Eldon B. Schuster was chosen to succeed Bishop Condon, on Jan. 23, l968. Schuster also took part in the sessions of the Second Vatican Council. His diocese did not escape the depletion in the ranks of the clergy and the closing of many Catholic schools in the ensuing years after Vatican II. When Schuster retired on Dec. 27, l977, Pope Paul VI appointed Thomas J. Murphy to be the fifth bishop of Great Falls. A native of Chicago and rector of Our Lady of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, IL, Murphy was consecrated bishop on Aug. 26, l978. He served the diocese until May 27, l987, when he was named coadjutor archbishop of Seattle. Faced with serious personnel shortages, and with the help of his presbyteral council, Murphy consolidated parishes and schools. Cluster parishes were formed to care for areas with fewer priests. Women religious were called upon to conduct the day-today administration of these parishes. Another significant development was the decision to change the name of the diocese, in 1980, to the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, thus recognizing the importance of the Catholic community in Billings, the largest city in the state.
Anthony M. Milone, auxiliary bishop of Omaha, NE, was named the sixth bishop of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings on Feb. 23, l988. At that time, the 73 parishes and 56 missions in the diocese, had only 58 resident pastors. Father Elden F. Curtiss, president-rector of Mount Angel Seminary in St. Benedict, OR, was named by the Holy See to succeed Bishop Hunhausen in Helena. He was consecrated the seventh bishop of the diocese on April 28, l986. For the next 17 years, Curtiss dealt with a wide range of problems. He chose as his motto a paraphrase of John 17:21, "That we all may be one," and his desire to unify and reconcile a sometimes divided diocesan church was the hallmark of his episcopacy. He presided over a diocesan synod in 1988, the first one held in 80 years. It was announced on May 4, l993, that Curtiss was named archbishop of Omaha, and Monsignor Alexander J. Brunett of Detroit, MI, was subsequently appointed the eighth bishop of Helena, April 19, l994, a post he held until he was named archbishop of Seattle, on Oct. 28, l997. His successor was Robert C. Morlino, another priest of Detroit, who was consecrated the ninth bishop in the Cathedral of St. Helena, Sept. 21, l999.
At the beginning of the 21st century, there were approximately 125,000 Catholics in Montana, in a total population of about 815,800 persons. They were served by about 122 active diocesan, extern, and religious priests. The two dioceses served five Native American reservations and a total of 124 parishes and 86 missions. Bishops Schuster and Hunthausen established the Montana Catholic Conference on Social Welfare, which in turn led to the formation of Catholic Social Services of (for) Montana and the Montana Catholic Conference.
Bibliography: l. b. palladino, Indian and White in the Northwest: A History of Catholicity in Montana (Lancaster, PA 1922). c. m. flaherty, Go with Haste into the Mountains: A History of the Diocese of Helena (Helena, MT 1985). w. p. schoenberg, Jesuits in Montana, 1840–1960 (Portland, OR 1960). s. schrems, "God's Women: Sisters of Charity of Providence and Ursuline Nuns in Montana, 1864–1900," Ph.D. dissertation, University of Oklahoma, 1993. w. j. greytak, The Roman Catholic Dioceses of Montana: An Abbreviated History (Helena, MT l995).
[t. a. clinch/
w. j. greytak]