History and Mission of the Diocese of Phoenix

History of the Diocese of Phoenix

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix was established on December 2, 1969 by Pope Paul VI. The Diocese, which is comprised of 43,967 square miles, includes the counties of Maricopa, Mohave, Yavapai, and Coconino (excluding the territorial boundaries of the Navajo Indian Reservation), and also includes the Gila River Indian Reservation in Pinal County.

Arizona and the Valley of the Sun (Metro Phoenix) are rapidly growing areas in the Southwest, and the Diocese of Phoenix has grown with it. When the Diocese of Phoenix was established in 1969, the Catholic population numbered around 180,000. There were 51 parishes, 61 missions, and a total of 182 Diocesan and Religious priests. Today, those numbers have drastically changed.

The history of the Catholic Church in Arizona is synonymous with the growth and history of the State of Arizona. Franciscan and Jesuit missionaries were the forerunners of the European civilization who brought European culture and Catholicism to the Southwest.

The beginning of the Catholic Church in Arizona can be traced back to the year 1539; 47 years after Columbus discovered the Americas. A Franciscan friar named Marcos de Niza traveled up through the Gulf of California into a northern territory, which had never been explored. He planted a cross on the land and named it "the New Kingdom of St. Francis." As a result, Padre Marcos de Niza is called the discoverer of Arizona and New Mexico.

Diocese of Phoenix Mission Statement

Because of our Baptism, the Holy Spirit calls us, the people of The Roman Catholic Church of Phoenix, to conversion as we come together to be nourished in the Eucharist, proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, and serve the needs of all God's people.

To be faithful to our baptismal call and our tradition, we accept the challenge to:

  • build a prayerful community which welcomes and celebrates our cultural diversity;
  • reach out actively and invite all, without prejudice, to experience the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ;
  • and distribute justly our resources with the poor and share with each other the gifts God has given to us.

December 2, 1994

Diocese of Phoenix Statistics

December 2, 1969

Diocesan Patroness:
Our Lady of Guadalupe

Diocesan Boundaries:
43,967 square miles including: Maricopa County, Mohave County, Yavapai County, Coconino County (except Navajo Indian Reservation), and the Gila River Indian Reservation in Pinal County.

Total Catholic Population:
1,145,593 Estimated Individuals
296,652 Catholic Households

Diocesan Priests (Includes retired, sick or absent): 134
Extern Priests: 67
Religious Priests: 86
Permanent Deacons: 245
Religious Brothers: 12
Religious Sisters: 133
Seminarians: 30
Parishes: 93
Missions: 24
High Schools (Diocesan and Private): 6
Elementary Schools: 29
Pre-Schools: 28
Catholic Cemeteries: 6
Catholic Mortuaries: 2

Present Bishop:
Most Reverend Thomas J. Olmsted
Installed December 20, 2003

Auxiliary Bishop:
Most Reverend Eduardo A. Nevares, V.G.
Ordained July 19, 2010

Former Bishops:
Most Reverend Thomas J. O'Brien
Installed January 18, 1982
Retired June 18, 2003

Most Reverend James S. Rausch
Installed March 22, 1977
Died May 18, 1981

Most Reverend Edward A. McCarthy
Installed December 2, 1969
Transferred to Miami, Florida, on July 7, 1976
Died June 7, 2005

Timeline for the Diocese of Phoenix

1548: The Diocese of Guadalajara, Mexico was established by Pope Paul III. No bishop was known to have visited the Arizona territory.

1620: The Diocese of Durango in north central Mexico was established by Pope Paul V. The Arizona and New Mexico territories were included in this diocese.

1689: A Jesuit priest, Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino, began to lay permanent foundations of the church in southern Arizona. Father Kino is well known for his missionary work in Arizona and founding countless missions. He died in 1711.

1779: The Diocese of Sonora was established by Pope Pius VI. The boundaries included Sonora, Sinalda, and upper and lower California. The Sonoran Province included present-day southern Arizona below the Gila River. New Mexico and northern Arizona remained a part of the diocese of Durango.

1850: A Vicariate Apostolic was formed in New Mexico by Pope Pius IX. Father John B. Lamy was made the first Vicar Apostolic with headquarters in Santa Fe, NM. (In areas where the hierarchy of the Catholic Church had not yet been established, the Holy See would set up Vicariate Apostolics. These missionary regions were under the immediate jurisdiction of the pope; this was one of the first steps toward establishment of a diocese).

1853: Establishment of the Diocese of Santa Fe (the New Mexico Vicariate Apostolic) by Pope Pius IX. The first Vicar Apostolic, Jean Lamy, was named the first Bishop of Sante Fe.

Sep. 25, 1869: The Vicariate Apostolic of Arizona was established by Pope Pius IX and the Reverend John B. Salpointe was appointed Vicar Apostolic of Arizona. He later was consecrated as a bishop.

1875: New Mexico becomes the Archdiocese of Sante Fe with Arizona as a suffragan.

1877: Sacred Heart Church in Prescott, AZ, the oldest parish in the Diocese of Phoenix was formed. Since 1915, the Claretian Fathers have been administering to the pastoral needs of the parish.

1881: St. Mary's Church in Phoenix was founded. It is the oldest Catholic Church in the Phoenix area and the only Catholic Church in Phoenix until 1928. (In 1985, it was made a Minor Basilica by Pope John Paul II.) Franciscan Fathers have been administering to the pastoral needs of the parish.

May 1885: Reverend Peter Bourgade was made the Vicar of the Arizona Apostolic after Bishop Salpointe was made the second Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Sante Fe. 1891: Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Flagstaff, AZ was founded.

May 8, 1897: Establishment of the Diocese of Tucson by Pope Leo XIII. This included the entire Arizona territory and the southern counties of Dona Ana, Grant, and Sierra in New Mexico. Bishop Peter Bourgade became the first Bishop of Tucson.

June 17, 1900: Reverend Henry Granjon was consecrated the second Bishop of Tucson.

1912: Arizona became the 48th state of the United States and with that the boundaries of Tucson were realigned to include only the entire state of Arizona.

June 23, 1923: Bishop Daniel Gerke became the third Bishop of Tucson.

1936: The Tucson Diocese joined in the new metropolitan province of Los Angeles.

Dec. 16, 1939: Establishment of the Diocese of Gallup, NM by Pope Pius XI which included five counties from northern Arizona.

Oct. 26, 1960: Bishop Francis J. Green becomes the fourth Bishop of Tucson.

Dec. 2, 1969: Establishment of the Diocese of Phoenix by Pope Paul VI. Our Lady of Guadalupe was named the Patroness of the diocese and the Most Reverend Edward A. McCarthy was appointed the first Bishop of Phoenix. He served the Diocese until 1976 and he later became the Archbishop of Miami; he is currently retired. The diocese became the suffragan to the Archdiocese of Sante Fe.

1970: Church of the Resurrection in Tempe, AZ was the first parish founded after the Diocese of Phoenix was formed.

March 22, 1977: Bishop James A. Rausch, a former General Secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops was installed as the second Bishop of Phoenix. Bishop Rausch courageously spoke out on social issues and provided a new and powerful vision of the church. His sudden death in May of 1981 shocked and saddened the people of the Diocese of Phoenix.

Nov. 24, 1981: Pope John Paul II announced that Monsignor Thomas J. O'Brien, pastor of St. Catherine's Parish and Vicar General of the Phoenix Diocese was the third Bishop of Phoenix. He was ordained in Rome by Pope John Paul II on January 6, 1982, and installed as bishop in Phoenix, on January 18, 1982 in a ceremony attended by over 15,000 of the faithful. The new Bishop selected as his motto, "To Build Up the Body of Christ."

Sept. 14, 1987: Pope John Paul II visited the Diocese of Phoenix. It was a glorious day for Catholics and non-Catholics in all of Arizona and the Southwest.

Feb. 2, 1989: Mother Teresa visited the Diocese and established her home for the poor.

1995: Vision 2000, the Diocesan planning process, is implemented. Five Goals are identified for the Diocese.

February 12, 1997: People throughout the Diocese went to Desert Sky Pavilion to kick off the Jubilee 2000 festivities by participating in a special Ash Wednesday celebration. Over 12,000 were present at the celebration, and almost 1700 attending were candidates and catechumens who participated in the Rite of Election.

November, 1997: Diocese of Phoenix presented "Jubilee 2000: A Musical Celebration" at the Orpheum Theater. The play sold out to local audiences and was so successful additional performances were scheduled. It is estimated that over 20,000 saw the play.

February 4-7, 1998: Diocese of Phoenix held Vatican II workshops. The workshops were held for teachers, principals, clergy, religious, and laity as an opportunity for inspiration and to reflect on the Vatican II Council. Workshops took place at Celebrity Theater, Mount Claret Retreat Center, Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, and St. Francis Cabrini in Seligman.

May 30, 1998: Diocese of Phoenix held "The Celebration of the Holy Spirit - a Mass and Confirmation" at Bank One Ballpark. Over 30,000 attended the celebration. The event was the first non-sports event held at the Bank One Ballpark.

September 8, 1998: The Diocese of Phoenix sponsored "Spirit Fair 98 - A Celebration of the Power of the Holy Spirit in Song" which featured Kathy Troccoli, John Michael Talbot, Tony Melendez and Israel Houghton at America West Arena with 6,000 people in attendance.

December 11, 1998: Our Lady of the Americas Celebration was held at Blockbuster Desert Sky Pavilion. 10,000 people were in attendance at the multi-cultural celebration honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe.

January 24-29, 1999: The Diocese of Phoenix sponsored a number of open house meetings throughout the Diocese to welcome back Catholics who had left the church for one reason or another. Over 3,000 Catholics returned to the church due to this program.

December 24, 1999: Seven parishes in the Diocese of Phoenix commemorated the Jubilee Year 2000 by having Holy Door celebrations to ring in the new millennium. The celebrations included a Christmas Eve late evening Mass, a blessing of the parish doors, and a presentation of plaques designating each of the locations as places that Catholics in the Diocese of Phoenix should visit in the coming year as part of the Jubilee celebration. The doors will stay open for pilgrimages of the faithful throughout the Jubilee Year.

February 13-29, 2000: The Diocese of Phoenix once again offered open houses to invite Catholics who have left the church to return.