Nevada, Catholic Church in
NEVADA, CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
The formal beginning of Roman Catholicism in the territory that would eventually become the State of Nevada dates back to Aug. 16, 1860, when Archbishop Joseph Sadoc alemany of San Francisco sent the Reverend Hugh gallagher to establish a mission at Carson Valley. There is inconclusive evidence, however, that Franciscan missionary explorers Atanasio Dominguez and Silvestre de Escalante passed through the area in 1776 seeking a new route from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Monterey, California. Another Franciscan, Fray Francisco Garcas, following the Colorado River, is credited with having said the first Mass near what became Laughlin, Nevada, that same year.
The whole region was nominally a part of Mexico, but the Mexican government did little to colonize or govern it because it seemingly had little economic value. During the first decades of the 1800s, American trappers and explorers began to enter the area. The Old Spanish Trail was opened through Las Vegas in the 1830s. In 1848 the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed and Mexico formally ceded to the United States the territory that included what are now the states of California, Nevada and Utah, most of Arizona as well as parts of New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming.
Thousands of emigrants traveled through the deserts of the Great Basin en route to California, but the first permanent
settlements in the Nevada territory date from 1851 when both Mormon Station (Genoa) and Gold Canyon (Dayton) were established. In 1854 Carson County was created in Western Utah Territory. By 1857 the residents of Carson County were petitioning the federal government to allow them to create their own government as Nevada Territory. The Nevada Territory was established in 1861, and three years later in 1864 it was admitted to the Union as the 36th state. Nevada might not have come into existence so soon had it not been for the discovery of silver. The Sierra passes had been explored prior to the Gold Rush, and after 1848 the Humboldt River route, long known to trappers, became a highway for gold seekers journeying to California. Rich silver deposits were discovered during the following decade leading to the famous Comstock bonanza of 1859.
In 1866 the eastern boundary of Nevada was moved one degree of longitude east giving Nevada additional territory from Utah. The final change in the state's territory came in 1867 when land was taken from Arizona Territory and added to Lincoln County in southern Nevada.
Shifting Boundaries. The shifting of political and ecclesiastical boundaries impacted on the development of the Church. The Nevada territory was a part of the diocese of Sonora, Mexico, until 1840 when it was placed under the jurisdiction of the bishop of the Two Californias, garcia diego y moreno. After occupation by Americans, it became necessary to bring the territory into the diocesan structure of the United States. The territory of Upper California, including Nevada, was placed under the jurisdiction of the newly created diocese of Monterey, California. Three years later, in 1853, Nevada was transferred to the archdiocese of San Francisco when Bishop Joseph Sadoc Alemany became the first prelate of that new archdiocese. During this time the population was sparse and care of souls in this vast territory was of little concern, nor was there any missionary outreach to the native peoples who lived in the area. The discovery of the valuable mineral deposits brought about a dramatic change to the territory in general and to the Church.
In 1858, given the increase in numbers of people, Archbishop Alemany sent the brothers Joseph and Hugh Gallagher, the first priests assigned to Carson County. Father Joseph Gallagher (1821–87) began service in Genoa, Carson City and Virginia City in 1858 but probably traveled from Bodie, California. His brother Hugh (1815–87), later settled in the territory and built churches in the town of Genoa in 1860, in Carson City, and in Virginia City, the last directly on the Comstock Lode, center of Nevada's mining riches.
In 1860 when the Vicariate Apostolic of Marysville, California, was created it included Carson County. All the territory from the Pacific Ocean to the Western Boundary of Utah and north of the 39th degree of latitude was assigned to the new Vicariate Apostolic under the jurisdiction of Right Rev. Eugene O'Connell who was consecrated bishop Feb. 3, 1861. All the territory in Nevada south of the 39th degree of latitude was left in the archdiocese of San Francisco. At this time the population of Nevada was centered mostly around the area of Carson County. The division of the territory of the State of Nevada between two ecclesiastical jurisdictions was to continue for 70 years.
In 1862 Bishop O'Connell sent newly ordained Patrick manogue, a former miner, to serve the Church in Nevada. From the time of his arrival at the end of June 1862 until 1884 when he became the bishop of Grass Valley, Patrick Manogue was the driving force of the growth of the Catholic Church in Northern Nevada. His parish was all of the Nevada territory north of the 39th parallel, and St. Mary's in the Mountains in Virginia City became the center of Catholic life in Western Nevada. The parish church that Manogue built in 1877 continues in use.
With substantial support from Mr. and Mrs. John Mackay, Comstock mine-owners, in 1864 Manogue constructed a school and orphanage. The Daughters of Charity led by Sister Frederica McGrath came from San Francisco to staff these institutions. In 1875, again with financial support from the Mackay family and the Miners Union, he began construction of a hospital. The Daughters of Charity operated the hospital until 1897 when it was sold to Storey County and the sisters left.
Alone at first, and later with the aid of assistants, Manogue was responsible for ministering to the Catholics in the far-flung mining camps and ranches. Little by little new parishes were cut off from the parish of St. Mary's in the Mountains. Divide and Gold Hill were established in 1863; Austin, 1864; Carson, 1865; Reno, 1871; Eureka, 1872; and so on through the years. Manogue was made coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Grass Valley, California in 1881 but he spent a great deal of time in Virginia City until he succeeded to the see in 1884. With the erection of the Diocese of Sacramento (1886), eight counties of the state of Nevada were included in the California diocese.
The rise and fall of the mining camps shaped the early formation of the Church in Nevada. The coming of the railroads helped to stabilize some portions of the population. Among the early immigrants who came into the state were Italians and Basque peoples from the Pyrenees Mountains. Many Italians first came to Northern Nevada to work for the railroad but soon began to purchase land and focus on truck farming and ranching. Nevada's geography lent itself to sheep herding. The Basque people were first brought to Nevada as shepherds, a trade for which they were noted. These two groups along with the Irish who originally came to the mines made up the bulk of the early Catholic population of northern Nevada.
The southern portion of the state developed more slowly. The territory below the 39th parallel remained under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of San Francisco until 1887 when it was detached and ceded to the Vicariate of Salt Lake. Father Lawrence scanlan whom Archbishop Alemany had sent to establish a parish in Pioche in 1870 was appointed the first Vicar Apostolic of Utah and Nevada. At the time that Salt Lake City became a diocese in 1891, the ecclesiastical jurisdictions of Nevada were again reorganized. It was more practical to divide the state along a north-south line rather than the previous east-west line. The eastern and southern counties of Elko, Lander, Eureka, White Pine, Nye, Lincoln and eventually, Clark, were attached to Salt Lake. The western counties of Washoe, Humboldt, Storey, Ormsby, Douglas, Churchill, Lyon, Mineral, Esmeralda and later, Pershing were assigned to Sacramento.
By 1871 the little town of Reno located along the banks of the Truckee River had grown sufficiently to support a parish that became the center for the Washoe County Missions. St. Mary's parish included much of northern Nevada up to the Oregon border and parts of eastern California as well. In 1879 a group of Dominican nuns from Delaware opened Mt. St. Mary's Academy for young ladies. It flourished for 10 years, but by the turn of the nineties as the mines began to fail it fell on hard times. Two of the sisters stayed on in Reno and as their number grew they opened a small hospital. In 1912 on the advice of Bishop Thomas Grace, they affiliated with the Congregation of the Most Holy Name of Jesus in San Rafael, California. The coming of the sisters from California was a milestone in hospital care in Reno. St. Mary's Hospital received full accreditation in 1922, and in 1930 a more modern facility was built.
Meanwhile in 1904 the Southern Pacific Railroad moved their shops and divisional headquarters from Wadsworth to a site four miles east of Reno. A new town came into being almost overnight, and the parish of the Immaculate Conception was founded.
An Eventful Year. In 1931 two events occurred that were to shape the future of the Church in the state of Nevada, the one directly and the other indirectly. On March 27, 1931, the Holy See detached all the territory within the State of Nevada from the dioceses of Sacramento and Salt Lake and created the diocese of Reno. It was the first time the Catholics of the state of Nevada were contained in one ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Rev. Thomas K. Gorman, a priest of the diocese of Los Angeles, was installed as the first Bishop of Reno on Aug. 19, 1931. The creation of the diocese was occasioned almost by chance. Chicago's Cardinal George Mundelein during a train ride through Nevada en route to San Francisco asked who served as bishop of this vast expanse. He was astonished to learn that of all the 48 states, Nevada was the only one without its own bishop. Upon his return to the archdiocese of Chicago, Cardinal Mundelein took steps to rectify the situation.
From the time of Bishop Patrick Manogue to the formation of the diocese of Reno, the part of Nevada belonging to the diocese of Sacramento had been governed by Bishop Thomas Grace from 1896 to 1921; by Bishop Patrick Keane from 1922 to 1928; and by Bishop Robert Armstrong from 1929 to 1931. The portion of Nevada within the jurisdiction of Salt Lake had, since the death of Bishop Scanlan in 1915, been governed by Bishop Joseph Glass, 1915 to 1926, and by Bishop John mitty from 1926 to 1931.
Las Vegas. Even as Bishop Gorman began to structure the new Diocese of Reno, another event occurred that would radically change Nevada. In 1931 the Nevada legislature legalized gambling, and the first casino opened on Fremont Street in Las Vegas.
The history of Las Vegas was much like that of other dusty, desert towns in Nevada. Because it had an artesian well, however, it was a regular stop for travelers. Sometime between 1830 and 1848, Vegas ("meadows") as shown on the maps was changed to Las Vegas. Mormon settlers had come to the area in 1855, but they abandoned the valley in 1858. By 1890 railroad developers had decided that this water rich valley would be a prime location for a railroad stop facility and town. By 1904 a tent city had sprung up to support the construction of the first railroad grade into Las Vegas. In 1905 the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad made its inaugural run from California to points east. That same year the Union Pacific auctioned off 1,200 lots in a single day in an area that today is known as Glitter Gulch: Fremont Street in Las Vegas. In 1908 Bishop Scanlan of Salt Lake established St. Joan of Arc Parish, the lone Catholic parish in Las Vegas for the next 34 years.
The Las Vegas economy was only slightly effected by the Depression. The construction of Hoover Dam, begun in 1930, gave rise to Boulder City and the parish of St. Andrew (1931). The development of the Union Pacific Railroad and legal gambling ensured a fairly steady stream of income. With World War II the federal government found sites in Nevada attractive for military and other uses. Nellis Air Force Base expanded, and a major titanium plant was built in Henderson. The well-known Area 51, the secret flight testing base, was in mid-Nevada as was Mercury Test Site, used for atomic weapons. Casinos, though often small and simple, were to be found in every city, town and hamlet throughout the state, but it was after World War II that the state began its amazing development.
When Bishop Gorman was transferred to the diocese of Dallas-Fort Worth as coadjutor bishop in 1952, his successor was Robert J. Dwyer, the rector of the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City. Nevada was experiencing great growth particularly in the Las Vegas area, and Bishop Dwyer continued the task of providing parishes and schools. He convened the first Diocesan Synod in 1957. In an effort to support the missions, newly developing parishes, and to build schools, he developed the Frontier of the Faith newsletter and traveled extensively throughout the country to raise funds. He invited sisters from Ireland, Cuba and the Philippines who joined with American religious to staff the schools.
At the time Bishop Dwyer arrived in Nevada the total population was about 160,000 including about 25,000 Catholics. By 1960 the population of the state had risen to slightly more than 285,000, and the Catholic population more than doubled. Much of the growth occurred in southern Nevada and was indicative of a trend that continued to the end of the century.
Bishop Dwyer was appointed Archbishop of Portland, Oregon, in December, 1966, and Bishop Joseph Green, auxiliary bishop in Lansing, Michigan, became the third Bishop of Reno. Installed in May of 1967, Bishop Green's main task was the implementation of the reforms of Vatican Council II. He instituted the Catholic Services Appeal to provide support for the necessary diocesan programs that served parishes statewide. He also traveled extensively to encourage vocations to the service of the Church in Nevada and fostered a spirit of ecumenism toward other religious groups. Even as the population boomed, Bishop Green maintained a steady focus on renovating and upgrading existing parishes and the development of the Church as envisioned by the Fathers of Vatican II. A series of illnesses, aggravated by a severe financial crisis, caused Bishop Green to retire in 1974.
Bishop Norman F. McFarland, auxiliary in San Francisco, who first came to Nevada as Apostolic Administrator in 1974 was appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Reno in February, 1976. With the collegial assistance of the American hierarchy, McFarland managed to put the diocese on a firm financial footing. The same year he was appointed bishop of the diocese, McFarland petitioned and Pope Paul VI agreed to redesignate it as the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas with Guardian Angel Shrine in Las Vegas as the co-cathedral. In the midst of the financial crisis, the growth of the diocese continued unabated.
In August 1987 Bishop Daniel F. Walsh, auxiliary of San Francisco, succeeded McFarland who had been named bishop of Orange, California. His installation was celebrated at Guardian Angel Cathedral in Las Vegas where he would also establish a Chancery Office and a residence in order to be more available to the needs of the Church in southern Nevada where 58 percent of the Catholic population now lived. Las Vegas had become a major destination city for people from all around the world. The thousands of visitors to the mega-resorts, entertainment and convention centers required the services of the Church. Bishop Walsh put an increased focus on ministry to the Hispanic population in the state.
The need to minister to the Catholic community scattered across 110,800 square miles of desert and the travel between Reno and Las Vegas, almost 500 miles apart, taxed the health and stamina of Bishop Walsh as it had Bishop Green. It became increasingly clear that this could not continue. By 1995, the population of Nevada had risen to nearly 1.5 million people with nearly 450,000 Catholics. Recognizing the situation, the Holy See announced on March 21, 1995, the division of the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas into two separate dioceses. The Diocese of Reno was to consist of 12 northern counties with 25 parishes and 11 missions. The newly created Diocese of Las Vegas was to consist of five southern counties with 23 parishes and eight missions. Bishop Phillip F. Straling of San Bernardino, California was appointed sixth Bishop of Reno and Bishop Daniel F. Walsh was appointed first Bishop of Las Vegas.
In May 2000, Bishop Daniel Walsh was installed as Bishop of Santa Rosa, California. Monsignor Joseph A. Pepe, a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia serving in Santa Fe, was appointed the second Bishop of Las Vegas. He was installed at Guardian Angel Cathedral on May 31, 2001.
The story of the Church in Nevada in the 20th century comprises a history of growth. Despite their small numbers in a heavily unchurched state, Catholics were visible and successful in a variety of political, economic and community endeavors. They held elective offices on both the state and national levels and were very active in every aspect of the civic life. At the beginning of the 21st century the Church's charitable outreach is without equal in the state. In small communities across Nevada the faith is lived out much as it has been for many years, but in the larger cities there is an urgent need to assimilate newcomers made more difficult by the shortage of priests. Being without priests is not a new experience in Nevada. In the formative days of the Church small communities were visited by a priest on an infrequent basis. It is the laity, assisted by a small cadre of zealous clergy and religious, who will be responsible for keeping the faith strong in the years ahead as was so often the case in Nevada history.
Bibliography: t. k. gorman, Seventy-Five Years of Catholic Life in Nevada (Reno 1935). e. m. mack and b. w. sawyer, Here Is Nevada (Sparks, Nev. 1965). Inventory of the Church Archives of Nevada; Roman Catholic Church. Historical Records Survey, Division of Professional and Service Projects; Work Projects Administration. The Historical Records Survey, Reno, NV, 1939. k. m. franks, ed., Strength of Our Roots, Faith and Our Vision, 1850–2000 (Dominican Sisters of San Rafael 2000).