Timeline 2018-01-18T12:20:40+00:00

The 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.

Catholicism in the Early Southwest

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.

Establishment as a Catholic Diocese of Phoenix

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.

Mother Teresa in Phoenix, Arizona

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.

Recent History


Jan. 15, 2000: Festival of Faith.  Attending this event were about 35,000 individuals from around the state who gathered in prayer during the Festival of Faith 2000. This was the largest ecumenical event in Arizona’s history. 

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


June 17, 2003: Bishop Thomas J. O’Brien retires.

June 2003: Archbishop Michael Sheehan was appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Phoenix.

September 2003: The new Diocesan Pastoral Center was formally dedicated.

December 20, 2003: Installation of Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted as Bishop of Phoenix.


Latin-Tridentine Mass is permitted

All Souls Cemetery began in 2004 servicing the Verde Valley area.

Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in the Diocese of Phoenix establish home in the Diocese of Phoenix.


In late 2005, Bishops of Arizona promulgate “You Welcomed Me” Pastoral Letter on immigration.

Bishop Olmsted established Mater Misericordiae Mission for the celebration of the Tridentine Mass.

Pope John Paul II dies on April 2, 2005. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger chosen as Pope, choosing the name Benedict XVI.

June 2005: Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy passes away at the age of 87.


October 2006: Publication of “Catholic in the Public Square”, a question and answer booklet that speaks to the responsibilities of Catholics in civic life.

Ancient Order restored for sacraments of Christian Initiation. In a pastoral letter sent to all Catholics in the diocese in May 2005, Bishop Olmsted announced a new policy adjusting the age, from the age of 16 to the age of reason, for the Sacrament of Confirmation. 

Bishop Olmsted welcomes the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist to the diocese.

Summer: The Diocese of Phoenix Catholic Cemeteries opened in the summer of 2007 the first-ever, cemetery-based funeral home in the Diocese of Phoenix at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Mesa.


Pope Benedict XVI gave permission for a wider celebration of the Latin Mass, called properly the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, Bishop Olmsted helped to implement this in the Diocese of Phoenix.

June: Bishop Olmsted ordains six men to the priesthood-the largest class in 14 years.

December: 50th Anniversary of Most Holy Trinity Church, Mesa


In early 2008 Bishop Olmsted appointed to serve as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico.

March 7, 2008: Roughly 4, 00 teens from the diocese’s six Catholic high schools and several parish youth groups came together for the Southwest Youthfest March 7 at Jobing.com Arena.


Feb. 5, 2009: Father James Sean Wall, vicar for priests for the Diocese of Phoenix, was named Bishop of Gallup.

Feb. 17, 2009: Pope Benedict XVI conferred the title Chaplain to His Holiness on three priests of the Phoenix Diocese: Fathers Antonio Andres Sotelo, George Edward Highberger and Thomas Francis Hever. All three were honored for their exemplary ministries in the Diocese of Phoenix.

Aub. 8, 2009: 1st International Marian Congress Guadalupe Festival:  Nearly 22,000 people packed the Jobing.com Arena for an Aug. 8 festival honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe and featuring a relic of St. Juan Diego’s famed tilma. The event was hosted by the Knights of Columbus.

Aug. 8, 2009: St. Rose Philippine Duchesne Church: St. Rose parishioners move in to new spirituality center. The parish in Anthem is the fist in the world to be named after Rose Philippine Duchesne, the French nun who served as a missionary in the Unites States and who reportedly never stopped praying.

Dec. 2, 2009: 40th Anniversary of the Diocese of Phoenix

Korean Catholics form quasi-parish in Mesa: St. Columba Kim Catholic Korean Mission.

Dec. 8, 2009: Dedication of Immaculate Conception Parish in Cottonwood.


July 19, 2010: The Most Reverend Eduardo Alanis Nevares was ordained as the first Auxiliary Bishop for the Diocese of Phoenix on July 19, 2010, at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Avondale.






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