OREM — In 1892, Immaculate Conception Catholic Church was built in Provo, when Father Lawrence Scanlan (later the first Bishop of Salt Lake), remodeled a home there into a chapel and rectory. Now, 125 years later, the parish that has been renamed St. Francis of Assisi is the oldest and largest Catholic Church in Utah County; it was consecrated by the Most Rev. Duane G. Hunt, fifth Bishop of Salt Lake, who placed it under the patronage of the founder of the Franciscan order.
On Oct. 6 the parish, now located in Orem, celebrated its anniversary with a Thanksgiving Mass at which the Most Rev. Oscar A. Solis, 10th Bishop of Salt Lake City, presided.
Concelebrating the Mass were Fr. Martin Diaz, rector of the Cathedral of the Madeleine; Fr. David Bittmenn and Fr. Jorge Martinez, respectively the parish’s pastor and parochial vicar; Monsignor Robert J. Bussen and Fr. Patrick Elliott, retired priests of the diocese; Fr. Jan Berdnarz, pastor of St. Martin de Porres Parish; and Rev. Garret Edmunds, OFM, the parish’s last Franciscan pastor who is now assigned to the Historic Mission at Santa Barbara, Calif. He is the archivist for the Santa Barbara Province, but until recently he was assigned to the Custodia Terræ Sanctæ in the Holy Land were he taught and led tours of Holy Land sites.
During the celebration, Bishop Solis welcomed tall those present at the Mass.
“I want to thank everyone for being here to celebrate 125 years of faith,” said the bishop, who also thanked Fr. Bittmenn and Fr. Martinez for inviting him to celebrate the Thanksgiving Mass.
“We have gathered here today to thank our loving God for this blessing. … It’s a privilege and honor to be part of this historical event,” Bishop Solis added.
Recalling that Fathers Escalante and Dominguez, members of the Franciscan order, were the first Catholics to set foot in Utah in 1776, Bishop Solis told the congregation that Saint Francis of Assisi Parish “continues to be a fountain of blessings.”
The Catholic Church’s continuous presence in Utah goes back to May 1866, the year after the Civil War ended, when Father Edward Kelly purchased property lot in Salt Lake City to be use for a Catholic church. Five years later, the church on that site was dedicated under the patronage of St. Mary Magdalene. Twenty-one years later, Fr. Scanlan made the first chapel and rectory in Provo out of a remodeled home. The parish was vacant from 1892 to 1914, but in 1914 Fr. Stanislaus Bono became its first resident pastor.
For the first part of the 20th century, diocesan priests oversaw the parish, but in the 1930s, members of the Franciscan Province of Santa Barbara in California began to administer it. The last Franciscan pastor, Fr. Garret Edmunds, OFM, left in 1996. Since then, diocesan priests have been assigned to the parish.
Throughout the years, the members of St. Francis of Assisi Parish have performed service for the community in a number of ways, including providing for the homeless.
To accommodate the growing congregation, in 2000 St. Francis of Assisi Parish moved from Provo to Orem. The first phase of construction included offices for pastoral administration, a gymnasium/social hall, a kitchen and classrooms for religious education in the basement. Parishioners attended Mass in the gymnasium for 11 years as funds were raised for the new church. On Dec. 27, 2011, construction begun, and dedication of the new church was on Feb. 19, 2012.
“We witnessed the whole process of building a new parish,” said parishioner Angela Robles, who remembers attending Mass in the gym. “Seeing all this development is a really good feeling. … When we arrived here our faith was not that strong, but seeing all the growth in the whole community has made it stronger,” said Robles, who is a catechist teacher, while two of her six children serve as altar boys.
The joy that Robles felt was shared by many of the people who attended the thanksgiving Mass.
Deacon Vicente Vazquez said that his heart was overflowing with joy at the event.
“We are a mission diocese. … To celebrate 125 years translates into a lot of effort, thanks to the perseverance of the many people who began all this and for the dedication of those who preceded them,” said Deacon Vazquez.
Persevering in the Catholic faith is a call from God, he said.
“God calls us to go and evangelize. ... It’s our call; as Christians is our duty,” he said.
The parish’s anniversary celebration will continue with a semiformal dinner on Oct. 14.