In 1891, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City was formed from the old Vicariate of Utah and Eastern Nevada. Over 8,000 members, fifteen churches, and fourteen priests belonged to the new diocese.
Catholics appeared early on Utah’s religious landscape. In 1776, Franciscan friars Silvestre de Escalante and Francisco Dominguez traveled through the future state on a planned expedition to California. They were eventually followed by French Catholic hunters and trappers. But it wasn’t until 1871 that the first permanent Catholic church—St. Mary Magdalene—was built by Father Patrick Walsh at the intersection of Second East and First South in Salt Lake. Two years later, Lawrence Scanlan was posted to Salt Lake City as the church's pastor.
In those early years, Utah’s Catholics were assigned to various dioceses in California including Monterey and San Francisco. But the Utah church didn’t suffer much from infrequent contact with bishops on the West Coast. Father Scanlan threw himself into his work, building churches, hospitals, and schools across the state, often in mining camps like Silver Reef, Park City, Frisco, and Eureka. For more than a decade, the Catholic population of Utah grew, fed by immigration from Europe, until it was made its own vicariate with Father Scanlan named as vicar bishop. But the growth did not end. By 1891, the vicariate was elevated to the level of diocese.
Since then, Utah’s Catholic Church has remained an important part of the state’s cultural, social, and religious life. Over the years, the church built the majestic Cathedral of the Madeleine, Holy Cross Hospital (now Salt Lake Regional Medical Center), St. Benedict’s Hospital (now Ogden Regional Medical Center), and a whole host of primary and secondary schools. Today upwards of 200,000 members of the Roman Catholic Church call Utah home.
Image: St. Mary Magdalene. Interior of St. Mary Magdalene, the first Catholic church in Salt Lake City. Located on 50 South and 200 East. Courtesy of J. Willard Marriott Library.
See Bernice M. Mooney, Salt of the Earth: The History of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, 1776-1987 (Salt Lake City: Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City), 1987. Also see Mooney’s entry on the Catholic Church in the online Utah History Encyclopedia and the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake