The Diocese of Sacramento Enjoys a Rich History

1850-1868 Apostolic vicariate in Marysville

On August 10, 1850, Father Peter Augustine Anderson, O.P., celebrated the first Mass in Northern California in a private home on 5th and L streets in the city of Sacramento. Anderson was a Dominican priest and a missionary. He had been sent to California by his provincial, Father Joseph Sadoc Alemany, O.P., who later became the first American bishop in California.

Included in the congregation of that first Mass was the Honorable Peter Burnett, the first Governor of California. He was so convinced that Catholicism had come to Sacramento to stay that he gave Father Anderson a plot of land on 7th and K streets, which became the future site of the first of four churches named after Saint Rose of Lima, the patron saint of the seminary at which Augustine studied in Kentucky.

In 1850, the city of Sacramento was a mission of the church of Saint Francis, in San Francisco. Today, it is the See city of the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, comprising 42,000 square miles of territory.

The first of the four churches was a simple wooden frame structure that went up rapidly enough and came right down again with a strong wind. Unfortunately, Father Anderson didn't live long enough to see the church; he died of exhaustion and sickness while helping the sick during a cholera epidemic in Sacramento, just three months after he arrived. He was, in the full sense of the word, a martyr of charity — and recognized as such as early as 1850.

On September 27, 1860, after 10 years of sending missionaries into Northern California from San Francisco, the Marysville vicariate was established. It included all of Northern California and most of the State of Nevada. The first Vicar Apostolic was Bishop Eugene O'Connell who had previously been a professor at All Hallows Seminary in Dublin, Ireland. His reaction to being named Bishop was: “I am condemned to the mines!”

1868-1881 — Diocese of Grass Valley

By March 3, 1868, the vicariate of Marysville had sufficient priests and people that it would stand on its own as a diocese. Consequently, Pope Pius IX created the Grass Valley Diocese, with Bishop Eugene O’Connell as its first and founding Bishop, although he maintained his residence in Marysville.  The fluctuations of the economy of that day defined the struggles of this new Diocese. From Virginia City, Nevada to Chico, constant change marked the horizon.  Town populations would grow and decline as mining, agriculture and transportation industries made their mark on the frontier. Bishop O’Connell served from 1868 until March 17, 1884, when he resigned and Patrick Manogue was appointed as his replacement.

1881-1895 — Bishop Manogue First Bishop of the newly formed Diocese of Sacramento

There are more stories told about Patrick Manogue (1832-1895) than any other bishop or priest in California; and the reason for it is the man’s character and the life he led. He was born in Kilkenny County, Ireland in 1832 and lost both parents to sickness. In 1848 he came to United States where he found work and went to college. Under pressure of wanting to bring his brothers and sisters to United States, he interrupted his college life in 1853, and came across country to a place called Moore’s Flat, above Nevada city in California, where he started to dig for Gold — and was successful, in more ways than one — since he was six feet, three inches tall and powerfully built.

While making money, working all day smashing quartz and digging tunnels, he studied at night — he brought his college books with him. What he really wanted was to become a priest. There were many disputes in the mining camp. Manogue, though only in his early twenties, was the acclaimed judge of these disputes. Size, strength, and goodness have a way of convincing people!

In four years of mining, Manogue made enough money to afford an education in Paris at one of the best seminaries of the time, Saint Sulpice. During those years he not only studied but traveled throughout Europe — but he never forgot his family living in Moore’s Flat. He regularly wrote to them.

Manogue was ordained a priest in Paris and came back home to California and his first assignment: Virginia City, Nevada. A strong man was needed for Nevada. Manogue fit the bill. While there, not only did the city grow with the discovery of first gold, then silver — Manogue grew also in his ability to help others; nor was he afraid to use his strength. On one occasion he learned that one of his parishioners was dying. He got on his horse, at night, and started out to the lonely cabin. When he arrived, the lady’s husband came out of the cabin, a pistol trained on the priest. “No blankety-blank priest is going to touch my wife!” The pistol waved in the air. Manogue decked the man, took the pistol away, went into the cabin and prayed with the woman. When he returned, the astonished husband was sitting on the steps. Manogue gave back the pistol, got on his horse and rode back to Virginia City. The stories about the man are legend!

One of the men Manogue had mined with was John Mackay, an ordinary miner who later discovered the Comstock silver lode in Virginia City. He became the richest man in the world, but never lost his friendship with Manogue.  He built both a hospital and a school for the parishioners. The hospital still stands and is a relic used by art groups during the summer.

John Mackay also contributed heavily for the building of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento. A cathedral is for a Bishop, which Manogue became in 1881. By 1886, he was moved to a newly created diocese, Sacramento. It needed a cathedral, right next to the Capitol. His long time miner friends helped him build and celebrate it—at the old Golden Eagle Hotel on K Street—people like Fair, Flood, Mackay & O’Brien—the big four in mining whose fortunes created San Francisco.

In 1895, Patrick Manogue died in the Cathedral he built. Stories about the man and his life filled the papers for days. He was loved because he lived his life for Christ.

1896-1921 — The Bishop Thomas Grace era bridges pioneer California and modern times

Father Thomas Grace served both Bishop O’Connell and Bishop Manogue as a devoted and gentle parish priest, and a trusted advisor, respectively.  It made sense then that priests and bishops throughout California conveyed their wish to the Vatican that he be appointed as the next Bishop of the Diocese of Sacramento.  After some hesitation, he accepted, and he began a 25-year journey of leading the Diocese.

It was a period marked by growth and transition. Bishop Grace’s simple manner likely set a necessary tone as he navigated through financial woes, technology advancements and a population boom.  The Diocese grew from 25,000 to 55,000 people and welcomed a number of immigrants.  Irish priests, religious and lay people continued to adopt northern California as home, but so did German, Italian, Portuguese, and Croatian newcomers, each seeking their own communities and churches.  The period also was marked with significant establishment and growth of Catholic fraternal organizations.

As time went on, Bishop Grace’s health weakened and the first auxiliary bishop was appointed in Sacramento — Father Patrick J. Keane who later went on to become the third Bishop of Sacramento in March of 1922.

1922-1962 — A Growing Diocese

The forty-year period from 1922 to 1962 saw three bishops in the Diocese of Sacramento, each leading it forward and witnessing a new growth — not just in population but also in jurisdictional boundaries, buildings, schools, hospitals and ideas.

Bishop Patrick Keane, D.D., served from 1922 to 1928 with Irish roots in County Kerry.  His six-year episcopate focused on completing work that had been identified during Bishop Grace’s years.  However, he also established many new parishes and responded to a Vatican directive for more local priests and vocations. 

Bishop Robert Armstrong was an American-born bishop.  He was born in San Francisco but later his family moved to Washington State, and he studied at Gonzaga University.  He served from 1929 to 1957 and was admired for his casual and approachable style.  As the country moved through the Great Depression and the world faced another war, Bishop Armstrong actively involved himself in government matters and legislative issues affecting the Catholic people.  At the end of the war, Bishop Armstrong witnessed Sacramento’s population double in just 20 years — by 1957 there were 209,281 Catholics which was a 255 percent increase from 1940.  Addressing needs for parishes, schools and faith formation became a new priority for Bishop Armstrong.  Bishop Armstrong’s health deteriorated in 1954 and by January 1957 he passed away.  His recently appointed auxiliary Bishop, Bishop Joseph Thomas McGucken, succeeded him.

Bishop McGucken’s episcopate began in 1957 and continued through 1962.  In these five years, Bishop McGucken continued the much-needed building of churches, missions and schools.  His leadership approach was serious and devoted in order to accomplish the matters at hand.  He also made it his priority to develop and expand programs for religious education and sacrament preparation through the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD).  He authorized, built or approved for development nine parishes, three high schools, 33 new church buildings and one minor seminary before his departure to replace Archbishop Mitty in the Archdiocese of San Francisco in 1962.

1962-2008 — A Period of challenge, vision and faith

The next four decades would see three Bishops usher in change as the rapidly changing world delivered new dynamics to the Sacramento scene.  From the rural reaches to the urban core, the modern Diocese of Sacramento, tucked within a complex world, marched forward balancing secular realities with the spiritual truths.  These forty plus years required steady leadership rooted in tradition but tempered with purpose, understanding and conviction.

Canadian-born Bishop Alden Bell came from Los Angeles, having served as an auxiliary bishop there. Almost immediately upon his installation in 1962, he addressed a range of pending matters, most specifically building projects and new sites to answer the needs of a still-growing Diocese — namely Catholic high school development. Solano County was annexed, adding to the population growth.  Bishop Bell initiated a significant fund drive to alleviate costs, build schools, expand religious education and build a home for the aged.

At the same time, he was called to Rome as Vatican II commenced. Therefore, Bishop Bells’ term also became pivotal in the reception and implementation of liturgical changes and a more collegial approach to administration. This prompted the beginnings of many parish pastoral councils.  Other world issues also added to the uneasy times as the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement and legislative matters on abortion took hold. 

These tremendous challenges over his 17-year term were marked by world and diocesan turbulence. Positive actions to facilitate Catholic education, foster relationships with the Hispanic community and renovate the aging interior Cathedral were undermined by divisions, school closures, and world tensions. The Holy See accepted his resignation at the age of 75 in 1979.

By December of 1979, Bishop Francis Quinn was selected as Bishop Bell’s successor. Having served only a short time as an auxiliary bishop in San Francisco, Bishop Quinn came to serve Sacramento as its seventh Bishop. Described as “naturally kind and good-hearted,” Bishop Quinn appeared to have a genuine connection with everyone.  Noted for his approachable, simple and progressive style, he highlighted and responded to the growing diversity of the Sacramento Diocese, especially Asian, Filipino and Hispanic populations.  The appointment of Auxiliary Bishop Alphonse Gallegos in 1982 also facilitated positive relations with the Hispanic population.

Under Bishop Quinn’s guidance, a Diocesan-wide spiritual renewal program, called Renew, took root and flourished. Also, a Diocesan Pastoral Council was begun, a group of the laity from different parishes, priests and religious, who represented the life in the Diocese and acted as advisors to the Bishop in his pastoral responsibilities.

From 1980-1992, seven new parishes, several missions, two elementary schools and one high school were established. In that same year a group of consulters met to prepare the second Diocesan Pastoral Plan.

Bishop Quinn also reached out to women, and fostered lay ministry and involvement.  As priestly vocations declined, Bishop Quinn’s era welcomed many men into the permanent diaconate.  Bishop Quinn also spotlighted many social justice issues, elevating them to a level of heightened awareness among local Catholics.  He particularly focused on aid and ministry to the poor.  Bishop Quinn retired in January of 1994.

Bishop William K. Weigand came to Sacramento January 27, 1994 after having served as Bishop of the Diocese of Salt Lake City.  His birthplace and early roots were in the Pacific Northwest, specifically Washington and Idaho.  Upon his arrival to Sacramento, he soon became known as a genuinely faithful and committed leader and extremely intent on “refocusing” the faithful on the Church’s teachings.  This theme continued throughout his episcopate to this present day.

Key activities during his tenure included ecumenical outreach, intensified efforts in vocations regarding the priesthood and the permanent diaconate, and continued response to cultural diversity. As he had done in Salt Lake City, Bishop Weigand recognized the importance of restoring the Cathedral and, indeed, this two-year undertaking transformed the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament into all that Bishop Patrick Manogue likely had ever envisioned. At the same time, he commenced plans for a Diocesan Synod, the third to take place in the history of the Diocese. See Third Diocesan Synod.

In the midst of ongoing growth, the Diocese of Sacramento with nearly 600,000 Catholics faced the nationwide sex abuse crisis.  Bishop Weigand proceeded to respond with important measures and policies that would begin a local healing and offer hope for the future. 

With grace and dignity, Bishop Weigand courageously battled a liver illness throughout his tenure. Some 25 years earlier, diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, Bishop Weigand was told he might live three to five years. Against all odds, he managed his health well but required a very serious liver transplant in 2005. Bishop Weigand retired November 2008 and today, monitors his health as he travels, and lends support to Bishop Soto as Bishop Emeritus.

Third Diocesan Synod

Bishop William K. Weigand convoked the Synod August 3, 2003 on the steps of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacramento, opening the planning and preparation of this historic event while also formally closing the doors of the 117-year-old Cathedral for restoration.   

  • The third Diocesan Synod — Journeying Together in Christ— convened at St. Isidore parish in Yuba City, California, October 11-13, 2004: Historic Synod Book
  • Synod Initiatives were promulgated on January 9, 2005: English | Spanish
  • A subsequent Synod meeting of members convened January 16, 2006.
  • Diocesan statutes were promulgated November 26, 2006: English | Spanish

Today—Looking forward with joy and hope

Bishop Jaime Soto became Sacramento’s ninth bishop in November 2008 after having served as Coadjutor Bishop to Bishop William Weigand in the previous year.  Pope Benedict XVI named Bishop Soto Coadjutor Bishop October 11, 2007. Prior to moving to Sacramento to assume his new position, Bishop Soto served as Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Orange since March 2000, also having been appointed by his Holiness, Pope John Paul II as Titular Bishop of Segia.  His Episcopal Ordination occurred on the Feast of the Visitation, May 31, 2000.

For more information on Bishop Jaime Soto and his continuing guidance of the Diocese of Sacramento, visit Diocesan Bishop.