This history of our Diocese can be measured as a series of steps, one leading to another, and all leading towards the future where we, the family of Christ in southern and western Colorado, are united in vision and in purpose. In this manner we reflect on our history, not as a static trail of dates and events, but as a dynamic journey of spiritual growth, empowerment and ministry. From the formative leadership of Bishop Joseph Willging, Pueblo's first bishop, through the changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council, under the guidance of Bishop Charles Buswell, to the organization and goal setting implemented by Bishop Arthur N. Tafoya, our Diocese has evolved to meet the challenges faced by each era, and is prepared to embrace the challenges of the new millennium.
The year 2011 will mark seventy years of the Diocese of Pueblo's organization as an official and separate diocese. Before that, the area, which includes the entire southern half of the state from the Utah border in the west, to the Kansas border in the east, was included in the giant expanse of the Diocese of Denver, (established in 1887). And previous to that, it was frontier land, little settled, wild, and rich in soil, silver, and gold. This was the territory whose boundaries had not been defined and whose Catholic souls fell under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, (established in 1853), under the leadership of the Frenchman, Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy.
From his post in Santa Fe, Archbishop Lamy entrusted the varied spiritual needs of the Utah/Colorado territory to his Vicar, the French missionary, Fr. Joseph Machebeuf. The territory of Colorado was problematic to serve: Not only was the terrain defined by steep, often inaccessible mountain ranges and expansive prairies, but the people who chose to settle the land were equally as unique in culture, language and customs. There were the early settlers from northern New Mexico, farmers and ranchers, who settled the southern regions of the San Luis Valley in the early 1850's, and established the first Catholic church in Conejos (1858). Then there were the Anglo-American settlers, and European immigrants, many lured to the Colorado territory when gold was discovered in the late 1850's. In addition, tribes of nomadic Indians hunted and traversed the land, and Mexico and the United States quarreled and warred over which country owned it. These were the challenges faced by the early Catholic missionaries who proposed to establish parishes and celebrate the Sacraments in the Colorado frontier.
In 1868, Fr. Machebeuf was appointed Bishop of the Vicariate of the Colorado/Utah territory, which was still under the jurisdiction of Santa Fe. Eight years later, Colorado became a state. Encouraged by an expanding railroad that connected Denver to Durango, and all the mining camps in between, Colorado experienced a population explosion in the later part of the century. This influx of people spurred the establishment of a dozen parishes in the southern portion of the state. To accommodate the various ethnic nationalities, many parishes adopted a cultural preoccupation to serve the German, Slovak, Irish, Italian and Mexican populations. Bishop Machebeuf invited missionaries such as the Sisters of Charity, and the Italian Jesuits to help serve the growing needs of the Catholic settlers. In 1889, two years after the official establishment of Denver as a Diocese, Bishop Machebeuf, the first Bishop of Colorado died. He was considered a pioneer in the establishment of the Church in Colorado, and helped shape the foundation of the Diocese of Denver, and consequently, the Diocese of Pueblo. (Bishop Machebeuf was succeeded by Bsihop Nicholas Matz, Bishop Henry Tihen and BIshop Urban Vehr, all who served the Diocese of Denver).
In December 1941, as the United States was pulled into World War II, news that the Catholic Church in Colorado was going to establish a new diocese for the southern half of the state arrived in Pueblo. The news became official on January 6, 1942, and the Diocese of Pueblo began its own history. The division of the Denver Diocese was necessary in order to create more intimacy and cohesiveness between diocese and parish, and to allow each diocese to focus on its own regional priorities. The state was spilt in two, with the southern half defining the Diocese of Pueblo and the northern half becoming the Archdiocese of Denver. At the time, the Diocese of Pueblo contained thirty counties, and covered an expanse of over 48,000 square miles, with a population of approximately 78,300 Catholics. The Diocese would be divided into six deaneries: Alamosa, Grand Junction, Durango, La Junta, Trinidad and Pueblo. (In 1983, the Diocese of Colorado Springs was formed, and the areas of Salida and Buena Vista, Chaffe County, formerly of the Diocese of Pueblo, were reassigned to the Diocese of Colorado Springs).