Jesuits have had a strong presence in northern Utah
Friday, Jun. 26, 2015
(Editor’s note: In recognition of the Year for Consecrated Life, the is one in a series of articles about the religious orders that have contributed to the faith in the Diocese of Salt Lake City.)
Like the Carmelites, the Jesuits (Society of Jesus) were an order founded to help rejuvenate the Church after the corruption of the later Middle Ages and in the face of attack from Protestantism, and became an enormously powerful force in the Counter Reformation. Founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola, a Basque soldier who found God while recovering from battle wounds, the Jesuit order was recognized by Pope Paul III on Sept. 27, 1540.
Although Jesuits have done many things, their major contributions have been in education and as missionaries. Jesuit schools and universities are proverbial for their excellence of instruction, and Jesuit missionaries not only rescued several northern European countries that had fallen to Protestantism, but they also took Catholicism to India, China, Japan and the Philippine Islands.
They have played a significant role in Utah Catholic history, as well.
Bishop Duane G. Hunt, the fifth Bishop of Salt Lake who had invited so many other religious orders to Utah, persuaded the Jesuits of the California Province to send priests here. They served entirely in northern Utah, and have made it possible to extend Catholic ministries to places where there were too few diocesan priests to cover.
The first place they served was the new St. Henry Parish in Brigham City, which was originally a mission of St. Thomas Aquinas parish in Logan, but which Bishop Hunt made into a full-fledged parish in 1950 with jurisdiction over the entire Box Elder County. In September 1952, two California Jesuits, Fr. Edward J. Whalen, S.J. and Fr. Francis P. Dunn, S.J., arrived to assume responsibility for the parish. The assignment gave them a vivid idea of what it is like to be a priest in the far-flung Diocese of Salt Lake City: Each Sunday they celebrated two Masses at St. Henry, two Masses at the Intermountain Indian School in Brigham City, and one Mass in Little Valley near Lucin, which is now a ghost town on the old transcontinental railroad route in the far west desert near the Nevada border. It was not, perhaps, as taxing an assignment as the Jesuit missions in the Great Lakes region and the South American jungles, but it was among the most strenuous that Utah could offer.
By the end of the decade, St. Henry was expanding, particularly because of the new rocket engine plant at Thiokol 30 miles to the west. Accordingly, Fr. Joseph M. Clark, S.J., bought a surplus Army chapel from the Utah General Depot in Ogden and moved it to Brigham City, requiring the building to be cut in half and transported on two trucks. A basement was dug to create a kitchen and social hall, and the chapel was installed on top of it. The church was dedicated in 1958. During the 1960s the Jesuits also created a Catholic Center at the Intermountain Indian School and purchased an old house near Box Elder High School to be used for religious education classes.
The Jesuits were also active in Ogden and Huntsville. In 1954 they assumed responsibility for Santa Maria Mission, which had been created during the previous decade to minister to Mexican immigrants living there. In 1957 St. Mary Parish was created in Ogden, with the mission being part of the parish.
In 2008, the church moved to West Haven. The Jesuits served there until 2010, when they were withdrawn by their province, although Fr. Patrick Reuse, S.J. continues to serve in Brigham City.
Jesuits from the New York Province also have made their mark in Utah. Since the fall of 2012, Jesuit Fr. Richard Hunt has ministered to the St. Florence Mission in Huntsville. Jesuit Father Paul McCarthy served as the St. Thomas More parochial vicar for 14 years before retiring last year, while in 1987 Jesuit Father Joseph Rooney began working summers in the diocese; he moved here full time in 1998 and ministered to various parishes until he retired in 2012.
A total of 35 California Jesuits have served this diocese since the 1950s, together with four others from other provinces. Although their numbers have decreased to only two at present, their ministries have made a major contribution to Catholic history in northern Utah.