Omaha, Archdiocese of
OMAHA, ARCHDIOCESE OF
Erected as the vicariate apostolic of Nebraska on Jan. 9, 1857; it was designated the Diocese of Omaha (Omahensis ) on Oct. 2, 1885, and an archdiocese on Aug. 7, 1945, with suffragan sees at Grand Island and Lincoln, NE. In 2001 there were about 214,046 Catholics in a total population estimated at 830,522.
Early History. A Catholic settlement, made at St. John's City in Dakota County in 1856 by Rev. Jeremiah F. trecy of Dubuque, IA, was cut short by a destructive tornado after four years. When the first vicar apostolic, James M. O'Gorman, prior of the Trappist monastery at New Melleray, IA, arrived in Nebraska on June 3, 1859, he found several hundred Catholic families, principally in Omaha and along the Missouri River. O'Gorman brought the Sisters of Mercy (1864) and the Benedictine Sisters (1865), laying the foundations for a continuous history of Catholic education. He built a modest cathedral with money collected in the East and from workers constructing the Union Pacific and Burlington railroads. When he died in 1874, in addition to the Benedictines who had been laboring in southeastern Nebraska, O'Gorman had admitted approximately 30 secular priests, of whom about 18 continued to serve with some degree of permanence in the vicariate.
Two years later James O'Connor of Pittsburgh, PA was appointed second vicar apostolic and was consecrated on Aug. 20, 1876. He continued O'Gorman's work, launching the Sisters of Mercy on a program of secondary education and entrusting Creighton College (later University), built with a gift from the estate of Edward creighton to the Jesuits. The bishop also introduced the Poor Clares to Omaha, where, with financial assistance from John A. Creighton, they built their first permanent foundation in the U.S.; invited the Religious of the Sacred Heart to establish an academy, the now-defunct Duchesne College; and requested the Poor Sisters of St. Francis Seraph to inaugurate their extensive system of hospitals. Moreover, O'Connor personally supervised extensive Catholic colonization in the state, notably the Irish in Greeley County in the 1880s. He showed his solicitude for other national groups, which were similarly attracted by cheap farmland or railroad employment, by bringing the Franciscans and a group of Jesuits from Central Europe into the vicariate to work among the Bohemians and Poles. In addition, he directed the proliferation of parishes and schools that followed the heavy immigration.
Diocese. When the Diocese of Omaha, consisting of the states of Nebraska and Wyoming, was erected in 1885, O'Connor was appointed its first bishop. Among O'Connor's achievements was his spiritual direction of St. Katharine drexel, foundress of the Sisters of the blessed sacrament. In Thurston County, NE in 1908, she founded St. Augustine's Indian School in Winnebago, a ministry which endured into the 21st century.
In 1887 the Omaha diocese was further reduced when all of Nebraska south of the Platte River was established as the Diocese of Lincoln. Wyoming, with its see at Cheyenne, became a distinct diocese. Under the watch of O'Connor and his immediate successors, the diocese, and especially the city of Omaha, welcomed Italian, Polish, Hungarian, and Ukrainian immigrants. O'Connor died in 1890 and was succeeded by Bp. Richard Scannell, who was transferred to Omaha from Concordia, KS on Jan. 30, 1891.
By temperament a scholarly recluse, Scannell, nevertheless, carried forward the work of building new churches and schools. The House of the Good Shepherd opened a home for girls in Omaha. In 1907, following Scannell's decision to raze the old cathedral, the cornerstone was laid for a new edifice in Spanish Renaissance style, which took more than 50 years to complete. St. Cecilia's Cathedral was consecrated in 1959; it contains an array of liturgical art including Albin Polasek's bronze Crucifixus on the high altar, his bronze stations of the cross, and wood sculptures. It was renovated extensively in 2000, in part to reflect Kimball's original designs for the ceiling. In 1912 the central and western counties of the state lying north of the Platte River were erected into a distinct diocese; the see, originally at Kearney, was transferred in 1917 to Grand Island following the annexation of four populous western counties from the Omaha diocese.
After Bishop Scannell's death in 1916, Jer harty of St. Louis, MO, former archbishop of Manila, Philippine Islands, succeeded to the See of Omaha. Ill health marked the greater part of his 11 years there, preventing Harty from accomplishing any aggressive programs. Nevertheless, he did introduce new organization, diocesan in scope, and it was during his administration and with his encouragement that the world renowned institution of Boys' Town, a community founded to assist homeless and abandoned youth, was started by Rev. Edward flanagan in 1917. Boys' Town, renamed Girls' and Boys' Town in 2000 to reflect the growing female population, continues to attract large numbers of visitors to its campus in West Omaha.
On May 29, 1928, Joseph Rummel, a New York priest, was consecrated to succeed Harty, who died on Oct. 29, 1927, but the Depression thwarted many of Rummel's plans. Circumstances forced him to divert funds from a successful campaign in 1930 to finance diocesan expansion for relief work among the faithful. During Rummel's episcopate, Omaha hosted the Sixth National Eucharistic Congress in September 1930. When Rummel was transferred to the Archdiocese of New Orleans, LA in 1935, Bp. James Hugh ryan, rector of The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, took his place. World War II similarly neutralized many of Ryan's efforts.
Archdiocese. Under Bishop Ryan, the growth of the Church in Nebraksa was recognized when, in 1945, Omaha was raised to an archdiocese. Ryan died in 1947 and his place was taken by Gerald T. Bergan of Des Moines, IA, under whom the archdiocese experienced phenomenal development. By 1963 more than $60 million had been spent on construction, including that of a home for the aged and a now-defunct minor seminary. Twenty-three religious orders of women with a total of 805 sisters, assisted by 562 lay teachers, were engaged in elementary and secondary teaching. Between 1950 and 1960, the number enrolled in Catholic elementary schools almost doubled, and the number enrolled in secondary schools grew by approximately 50 percent.
Bergan's auxiliary, Daniel Sheehan, was named the archbishop of Omaha in 1969, and endeavored to sustain the diocesan commitment to education in the years following the Second Vatican Council until his retirement in 1993. His successor, Elden Curtiss, focused on maintaining Omaha's relatively high number of archdiocesan seminarians, averaging seven ordinations to the priesthood per year throughout the 1990s.
In the 1990s, agribusiness, communication industries, and suburban expansion, led to the growth of megaparishes, which emerged on the southern and western sides of the metropolitan area. Hispanic immigrants, attracted by jobs in the meatpacking and other industries, created a new ministerial need. Ministries to Vietnamese, Hmong, and Sudanese refugee populations also grew at the close of the 20th century.
Jesuits, who direct Creighton University and Creighton Preparatory School in Omaha; Benedictines, who serve Mount Michael High School near Elkhorn; and the Columban Fathers, whose national headquarters are in Bellevue, are among the significant communities of men religious represented in the archdiocese. The Sisters of Mercy, who founded the College of St. Mary for women in Omaha in 1923; the Servants of Mary; the Poor Clares; the Notre Dame Sisters; and the Society of the Sacred Heart, who operated Duchesne College prior to its closing and maintain Duchesne High School, are among the women religious serving northeast Nebraska.
Bibliography: Archives, Archdiocese of Omaha. h. w. casper, History of the Catholic Church in Nebraska, 3 v. (Milwaukee 1960–1966). w. e. ramsey and b. dineen shrier, A Gentle Shepherd: The Life and Times of Archbishop Daniel E. Sheehan (Omaha, NE 1999). sister loretta, c.p.p.s., History of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, 1887–1987 (Lincoln, NE 1986). s. szmrecsanyi, History of the Catholic Church in Northeast Nebraska (Omaha, NE 1983).
[h. w. casper/
s. a. weidner]