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Our Diocese

Diocesan History


Although Nevada was the last of the 48 contiguous states to have its own diocese, the Church in Southern Nevada that now makes up the Diocese of Las Vegas had a long and colorful history before it was established in 1995.

The first Mass celebrated in the territory that was to become Nevada was on the Colorado River in 1776 near the present day Laughlin. It was offered by the explorer, Father Garces, OFM, of Mexico. In 1776, Father Dominguez, OFM and Father Escalante, OFM came from New Mexico, crossed the Virgin River and made the trip to present day Utah.

Before the conquest of this area by the United States, the territory was under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Mexico. The territory was a part of the Diocese of Sonora until 1840, when it was placed under the jurisdiction of Bishop Garcia Diego y Moreno, the first Bishop of California. Shortly thereafter it became part of the Diocese of Monterey in California, until the Archdiocese of San Francisco was established in 1853 under its first Archbishop, Sadoc Alemany.

In 1860, the area north of the thirty-ninth parallel and west of the boundary of Utah was placed under the Vicariate Apostolic of Marysville with the other territory still under the Archdiocese of San Francisco. In 1886, the apostolic Vicariate of Salt Lake City was established and embraced what was to become the Diocese of Las Vegas. The first Vicar was Father Lawrence Scanlan. He founded the parish of Pioche and was Pioneer Priest and Bishop for most of Southern and Eastern Nevada, including White Pine, Nye, Lincoln and later Clark Counties in the Diocese of Salt Lake City.

In 1931, the Holy See detached all the territory in Nevada from the Dioceses of Sacramento and Salt Lake City. The Diocese of Reno was created, with Thomas K. Gorman as the first Bishop of Reno, Nevada. The Diocese of Reno was founded almost by chance because of a visit to San Francisco by Chicago's Cardinal Mundelein. During a lengthy train ride through the vast expanses of the west, the Cardinal asked the location of the train at one particular point. When he was informed he was traveling through Nevada, he inquired as who the Bishop was of this huge area. To his surprise, he learned that of all forty-eight states, Nevada was the only one without its own bishop and its own diocese.

The Diocese of Reno was established in 1931 by Pope Pius XI. Comprised of 110,540 square miles, it was one of the largest ecclesiastical jurisdictions in the lower United States. At that time, the population was 91,058 with some 8,500 Catholics. Twenty one years later, Bishop Gorman was transferred to Dallas-Ft. Worth. He was succeeded by Bishop Robert J. Dwyer in August of 1952. Bishop Dwyer oversaw the construction of new schools and churches as well as the renovation of St. Thomas Aquinas Cathedral in Reno. In 1966, he was appointed Archbishop of Portland in Oregon.

Nevada's third bishop came in the person of Bishop Joseph Green from Lansing, Michigan. Bishop Green sought to implement the reforms of the Vatican Council II throughout the Diocese. He instituted the Catholic Services Appeal and by his travels throughout the United States, successfully attracted numerous young men to Nevada to serve as priests. He fostered a spirit of ecumenism toward other religious groups and was active in civic affairs. A series of illnesses took their toll, and Bishop Green retired to Michigan in 1974. He died on August 31, 1984.

Bishop Norman F. McFarland, Auxiliary Bishop of San Francisco, came to Nevada in the midst of a financial crisis for the Diocese in April, 1974. Named Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese in December of that year, he struggled to bring financial stability with initial collegial assistance of the American Bishops. A tireless worker, he visited every parish and mission on a regular basis.

Bishop McFarland subsequently petitioned Pope Paul VI to redesignate the Diocese of Reno as the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas, with the Guardian Angel Shrine in Las Vegas as the Cathedral. His petition was made official in October of 1976. In 1981, the Church in Nevada proudly celebrated its Jubilee, marking 50 years as a Diocese and more than a century and a quarter of Catholic life in Nevada. On December 29, 1986, Bishop McFarland was appointed to the Diocese of Orange, California and was installed as second Bishop of Orange on February 24, 1987.

On June 9, 1987, Pope John Paul II named Bishop Daniel F. Walsh, then Auxiliary Bishop of San Francisco, as the fifth Bishop of the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas. To acknowledge the great growth in the southern part of the Diocese, his canonical installation was celebrated at the Guardian Angel Cathedral in Las Vegas before Most Reverend Pio Laghi, Apostolic Pro Nuncio to the United States, with Archbishop of San Francisco, John R. Quinn, as the Installing Prelate.

Early in his ministry, Bishop Walsh established a residence and Chancery Office in Las Vegas to be more available to the needs of the Church in southern Nevada. He established several new parishes in the southern part of the state: St. Joseph, Husband of Mary in Las Vegas, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Las Vegas, St. John the Baptist Mission in Laughlin and La Virgen de Guadalupe in Bunkerville. The Shrine of the Most Holy Redeemer was built in Las Vegas to serve the needs of the many tourists and visitors to the area. Within nine years, ten new churches were built to accommodate the growing population.

Also during the late 1980s, the Hispanic Ministry was established to meet the needs of Spanish-speaking Catholics who made southern Nevada their home. The Carmelite Monastery of Jesus, Mary and Joseph began in 1988. RENEW was sponsored for the parishes in 1991 through 1993 with many positive results.

Las Vegas Diocese History

In 1995, the Holy See, in recognition of the tremendous growth taking place in Nevada, divided the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas. Two new dioceses were established to support the northern and southern parts of the state: the Diocese of Reno and the Diocese of Las Vegas. The new Diocese of Las Vegas encompassed White Pine, Esmeralda, Nye, Lincoln and Clark counties, with a Catholic population of 250,000. Bishop Walsh was installed as the first Bishop of Las Vegas on June 28, 1995.

From the start, Bishop Walsh conducted listening sessions regarding the new Diocese. He conducted monthly meetings with the priests of the Diocese to establish a possible agenda for the Diocese of Las Vegas. He combined these clergy meetings with town meetings in all parishes in order to listen to the hopes and expectations of the laity. Following these sessions, the Diocese embarked on the Las Vegas Genesis Project, beginning with a questionnaire for all laity to determine their priorities for individual parishes and the Diocese as a whole. This project is ongoing, preparing this fast growing Church for the third millennium.

The results of the Genesis Project led to the establishment of a Diocesan Liturgical Commission, a Diocesan Youth Council, and scheduling regular gatherings of pastors with the bishop to continue and strengthen collaborative efforts.

The Liturgical Commission held their first Annual Liturgical Conference to train the laity in liturgical ministries.  The Office of Diocesan Catechetical Ministries held their First Diocesan Conference to train catechists, teachers and all who serve in parish ministries. The Diocese has also established a committee to plan and celebrate as the Church as we enter into the third millennium.

The Diocese of Las Vegas opened a full-time Vocations Office in July of 1998 with Father Tony Vercellone as Director of Vocations. 

In the fall of 1998 we celebrated the first "Send Off Mass" for our four seminarians as they went to begin their studies at St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park, California and the University of San Diego. 

The Diocese welcomed the presence of two Dominican Clergy, Father Anthony Petrarca, O.P. serving at the University of Las Vegas Interfaith Center and Father Joseph O'Brien, O. P. as Director of a new ministry in the Diocese to aid people suffering from H.I.V. and A.I.D.S. The Saint Therese Center opened its doors in the Fall of 1998 in Henderson, Nevada at St. Rose Dominican Health Clinic.

St. John Neumann Catholic Church opened its doors and began celebrating Masses at 4519 Simmons Street (between Craig and Lone Mountain) on the weekend of February 27/28, 1999, with Father Bede Wevita as Administrator.

A Diocesan Strategic Planning Council was formed and began meeting in February of 1999 to plan for the future growth of the Diocese. This Council was made up of the Chancery Core Team, nine members of the laity and two clergy members. This council met over the next four months and made recommendations to Bishop Walsh concerning how to minister to the rapidly growing population of Southern Nevada.

As the Church entered the Jubilee Year as a Diocese, plans were put in place in each parish to "Open the Doors" to all. The Jubilee Year began with Bishop Walsh inviting all Catholics to be reconciled during the Advent season by advertising with a full-page ad in the local newspapers. This was done again to celebrate Lent.

The Guardian Angel Cathedral, Shrine of the Most Holy Redeemer and St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church had been designated by Bishop Walsh as Holy Doors during the Jubilee Year.

In September 1999 the Diocese of Las Vegas opened the newest Catholic School at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Summerlin. It was the first new Catholic School to be built since the early 1960's, with the opening of St. Francis de Sales School.

On April 11, 2000 the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, announced through the Apostolic Nuncio that Bishop Daniel F. Walsh has been transferred to the Diocese of Santa Rosa. Bishop Walsh was installed as Bishop of Santa Rosa on May 23, 2000.

Monsignor Patrick R. Leary was appointed by the Board of Consultors as Diocesan Administrator on May 23, 2000.

On December 2, 2000 the Diocese established a residence for seminarians and candidates for the priesthood named Serra House. As Vocation Director, Father Tony Vercellone moved into Serra House as director along with 8 seminarians.

Monsignor Leary served as Administrator of the Diocese during this Sede Vacante until April 6, 2001 at which time the Holy Father, John Paul II, appointed Monsignor Joseph A. Pepe as the Second Bishop of the Diocese of Las Vegas.

The Episcopal Ordination and Installation of Bishop Joseph A. Pepe was celebrated on May 31, 2001 at the Guardian Angel Cathedral before the Most Reverend Gabriel Montalvo, Apostolic Nuncio, and His Eminence Roger Cardinal Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles. Archbishop William J. Levada, presided at this liturgy along with Most Reverend Michael J. Sheehan, Archbishop of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Most Reverend Joseph A. Galante, Coadjutor Bishop of Dallas, as Co-Consecrating Bishops, and His Eminence Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua, Archbishop of Philadelphia, as Homilist.

The Diocese of Las Vegas also celebrated the Ordination of its first priest as a diocese. Reverend Philip Audet was ordained on May 22, 2001 at the Guardian Angel Cathedral by the Most Reverend Richard J. Garcia, Auxiliary Bishop of Sacramento.

St. Francis of Assisi was erected as the newest parish of the diocese on January 16, 2002.  The parish began celebrating Mass on Christmas Eve 2003 in a local elementary school.

Our Lady of LaVang Vietnamese Catholic Community was dedicated as a Shrine by the Most Reverend Joseph A. Pepe, D.D.,J.C.D. on October 18, 2003.

Father Marc Howes was ordained to the priesthood at the Guardian Angel Cathedral on May 28, 2004.

On June 28, 2004, Ron Zanoni was ordained as Transitional Deacon at St. Joseph, Husband of Mary Catholic Church and Steve Hoffer was ordained as Transitional Deacon at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church on June 29, 2004.

In the year 2004 many changes were brought about at the Diocesan Catholic Center in order to better serve the needs of our parishes and community.  A Human Resources Department was established along with an Office of Hispanic Ministry, an Office of Liturgy and Worship and a Diocesan Office of Archives.  The Office of Faith Formation, previously known as the Office of Catechetical Ministries,  expanded its programs.  These departments were created to reflect and promote Bishop Pepe’s mission statement:   The Diocese of Las Vegas is a community of believers who proclaim the Gospel message of hope by serving all through evangelization, life-long formation and worship.

On Saturday, May 21, 2005 Deacon Steven Hoffer and Deacon Ron Zanoni were ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Las Vegas.

Bishop Pepe celebrated the Christmas Midnight Mass in 2005 with a Live Telecast from the Guardian Angel Cathedral on KLAS-TV Channel 8, our Las Vegas CBS affiliate.  It was a spectacular telecast bringing the joy and celebration of the Christmas Season into thousands of homes in southern Nevada.

Groundbreaking took place for the new Bishop Gorman High School on May 19, 2005, to be located in the southwest area of the valley.

The Diocese entered into a Service Capital Campaign to allow for the purchase of land in the areas that have been prioritized through careful study and review.  These areas include:
Southern Highlands, Centennial, West Summerlin and Cheyenne Hills.

The campaign kick off was November 2005 beginning with three initial parishes, with the majority of parishes beginning their efforts after the first of the year in 2006.  The Catholic Stewardship Appeal (CSA) was suspended for one year to compensate for the efforts it would take on everyone’s part for this important capital campaign to be successful.

April 21, 2006 the parish of St. Anthony of Padua was erected to serve the Catholic population in the Centennial Hills area of the valley.  Masses were celebrated at Centennial High School until the church was built. The church was completed an dedicated on February 6, 2016.

A Diocesan Lay Ecclesial Ministry Program began in September of 2006 with 78 lay participants.  This two year program will prepare lay men and women to serve as Ecclesial Ministers who have been prepared professionally for ministerial leadership roles.  The program is being presented in both English and Spanish and includes studies in theology, spiritual formation and pastoral development.

On September 16, 2006 St. John the Evangelist in Overton, Nevada broke ground for their new Parish Center/Worship Space under the administration of Father Leo Coughlin.

On September 27, 2007 Bishop Joseph Pepe dedicated the new campus of Bishop Gorman High School. 

On November 25, 2007 the parish of Holy Spirit Catholic Church was erected to serve the Catholic population of Southwest Summerlin.  The parish is located adjacent to Bishop Gorman High School.

On Sunday, October 3, 2008 the Most Reverend Joseph A. Pepe, D.D., J.C.D. dedicated the new church of St. Bridget Roman Catholic Church.

On October 26, 2008 Bishop Joseph Pepe accepted twenty-three candidates to begin their studies to be ordained to the Diaconate in 2011.

On February 19, 2009 La Virgen de Guadalupe Parish in Mesquite, Nevada broke ground for their new worship center.

On May 14, 2009 Deacon John Assalone was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Joseph Pepe at the Guardian Angel Cathedral. St. John the Baptist in Laughlin, Nevada was erected to a parish status on June 24, 2009.

On January 1, 2011 the Shrine of Our Lady of LaVang was erected to a parish status. 

On June 3, 2011 Bishop Joseph Pepe Ordained 19 men at the Shrine of the Most Holy Redeemer as Permanent Deacons for the Diocese of Las Vegas.

On May 31, 2013 Bishop Joseph Pepe Ordained 6 men at the Guardian Angel Cathedral as Permanent Deacon for the Diocese of Las Vegas.

On May 31, 2014 Bishop Joseph Pepe Ordained 1 man at the Guardian Angel Cathedral as Permanent Deacon for the Diocese of Las Vegas.

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