Los Angeles archdiocese: a brief history

Bishop Conaty

Bishop Conaty

The following comes from an August 23 story in the L.A. archdiocese paper, the Tidings.

The history of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in California can be traced to the early explorations of Juan Cabrillo in 1542 and Sebastian Vizcaíno in 1602. Accompanying these early explorers were the priests who celebrated Mass in various parts of the area until the actual founding of El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles in 1781.

By that time, Fray Junípero Serra — beginning in 1769 — had founded eight of the 21 California missions, including San Gabriel Arcángel in 1771. It was from San Gabriel that the City of Los Angeles was founded by 44 men, women and children of various ages and assorted ethnicities (half claimed African heritage as descendants of slaves).

Bishop Cantwell

Bishop Cantwell

In 1840 Pope Gregory XVI established a hierarchy in California and appointed Francisco Garcia Diego y Moreno, a native of Jalisco, Mexico, as the first bishop of the gigantic diocese that extended from Oregon to all of Baja California.

For 173 years since then, the Catholic Church has flourished and expanded throughout California. Today, there are two metropolitan districts in the state — the Provinces of Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the largest in the U.S., has a Catholic population close to five million in three counties — Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara. Some 300 parishes (including Eastern Catholic) are located in 120 cities in an area encompassing 8,762 square miles. The archdiocese is divided into five Pastoral Regions with an auxiliary bishop in each and four deans serving in each region as a liaison between the priests in the region and the archbishop. Currently 30 different ethnic liturgies are celebrated throughout the archdiocese, with Spanish-language Masses in more than 200 parishes.

The men who created dioceses, founded parishes and schools, and fostered the faith by example and virtue, reflect the colorful history of the archdiocese.

After Bishop Garcia Diego died in 1846 (he is buried at Santa Barbara Mission), Spanish-born Joseph Sadoc Alemany, a Dominican, was named bishop in 1850 when California became a state. Three years later he became the first archbishop of San Francisco and the Baja peninsula was separated. He established the first school for girls in 1851 under the direction of Dominican Sisters.

In 1859, Rome divided California into two dioceses: the Archdiocese of San Francisco and the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles. The new bishop was Barcelona-born Thaddeus Amat, Vincentian, who received approval from Rome to move the bishop’s residence from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles. In his 25 years leading the diocese, he erected St. Vibiana Cathedral in 1876.

For 18 years Bishop Francisco Mora, another Spaniard from Catalonia, worked tirelessly to establish 72 parishes amid many legal battles against the church. He was succeeded in 1896 by Bishop George Montgomery, the first American head of the diocese (born in Kentucky), who in his seven years faced serious bigotry, but proved himself a great civic leader and dynamic churchman.

Two Irish leaders followed. During the term of County Cavan’s Thomas Conaty (1903-15), the diocesan population tripled and numerous schools, hospitals and orphanages were established. John Joseph Cantwell of Limerick, who held the longest term of 30 years (1917-47), created 50 Hispanic parishes and missions.

He also saw the local church during not one but two divisions. In 1922, Rome split Monterey-Los Angeles into two dioceses: Los Angeles-San Diego and Monterey-Fresno. And in 1936, Los Angeles was made an archdiocese (and San Diego a diocese), making Cantwell Los Angeles’ first archbishop.

Then came Los Angeles’ first two cardinal-archbishops: James Francis McIntyre (1948-70) and Timothy Manning (1970-85). New York-born Cardinal McIntyre added 82 parishes, tripled the number of schools and dealt with a tremendous wave of immigration. Irish-born Cardinal Manning ordained the first permanent deacon class in 1975, a year before the Diocese of Orange was created.

In 1985, Pope John Paul II named the first native Angeleno, Roger M. Mahony, to head the largest archdiocese in the country. In 1991 he became Los Angeles’ third cardinal, and in 2002 he dedicated the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels to replace St. Vibiana’s.

After 25 years, he was succeeded by Archbishop José Gomez, originally from Monterrey, Mexico, who became Los Angeles’ fifth archbishop March 1, 2011. His motto — Adeamus cum fiducia ad thronum gratiae, from Hebrews 4: 16 (“Let us go forth with confidence to the throne of grace”) — is an appropriate link to the call of Blessed Junípero Serra, founder of the California Missions: Siempre Adelante (“Always forward”).

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Comments

  1. Steve Phoenix says:

    Historical note: the very saintly Archbishop Joseph (Jose) Sadoc Alemany (OP), is buried in the Old Mausoleum @ Holy Cross Cemetery, San Francisco, CA

  2. “Then came Los Angeles’ first two cardinal-archbishops: James Francis McIntyre (1948-70) and Timothy Manning (1970-85). New York-born Cardinal McIntyre added 82 parishes, tripled the number of schools and dealt with a tremendous wave of immigration.”

    How many who read this paragraph will know that the “tremendous wave of immigration” spoken of here primarily refers to Americans coming to Los Angeles from various other States in our country in search of good weather and the plentitude of job opportunities. My parents where two such “immigrants” one from the midwest and the other from the east coast. They both came to Los Angeles in the early 1950’s and have many stories to tell of how things were back then. Sadly too many of the children of these so called “immigrants” who help build up this once great city and diocese have had to evacuate the area because of the destructive Left Wing policies which now permeate the landscape.

    • Edgar Passo says:

      Cowards who fled, rather than stay and witness to God’s healing wisdom.

      • R.B. Rodda says:

        Amen. The amount of whining about CA by those that moved here and ultimately helped to transform it into what it has become is disgusting.

        “Send the mess to Texas.”

      • Edgar, Would you subject your 7 year old kid to a insufficient education? I knew a woman, who was barely making ends meet, who was told in the late 1980’s that there was no classroom available for her 7 year old daughter which was English only. The teacher was using the young girl as a tutor to her non-English speaking classmates and justified it by telling the mother that this would teach her leadership skills. There were children in the LA School district at the time who were born in Los Angeles, went through the public school system and graduated from High School without even being able to have a simple conversation in English. All of their education was in the Spanish language. At the same time more and more jobs were requiring fluency in Spanish in order to be hired. Positions on the parish level were no exception to this requirement. Oh, and just in case you might be tempted to think that I am a racist, many of the victims of these policies were of Mexican and African decent who did not speak or understand Spanish. These groups of individuals fled Los Angeles as much as their white counterparts did.

        So Edgar, would you hold the position that it is cowardly to do whatever it takes to provide for one’s family? Do you equally hold the opinion that all Mexican’s or people of other nations who have fled their country are, as you put it, “Cowards who fled, rather than stay and witness to God’s healing wisdom?”

        Public policy has consequences, good or bad, no matter where you live in the World; including Los Angeles.

  3. R.B. Rodda says:

    FWIW, Archbishop Joseph (Jose) Sadoc Alemany (OP)’s earthly remains were brought back from Spain and re-interred in SF.

  4. Interesting article! The personal histories of these men would be fascinating as well. Especially ‘in 1896 by Bishop George Montgomery, the first American head of the diocese (born in Kentucky), who in his seven years faced serious bigotry’. This was a really trying time for Catholics as Americans became more imperialistic with ‘manifest destiny’ at this time.
    I love informative articles like this. Maybe you could run a story on Dr. John McLoughlin, a Catholic convert known now as the Father of Oregon..what an amazing story! Talk about persecution for one’s faith!

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