This past week I was in Las Vegas, Nevada—a.k.a., Sin City. However, as I have explained for the past four decades, I have a friend there from my seminary days, Auxiliary Bishop Gregory W. Gordon. The bishop and I attended St. Charles Seminary in Philadelphia for college and we have remained friends ever since.
The occasion for this recent visit was the 90th birthday of his mother Carole. His mom and mine are approximately the same age. The last time I was in Vegas was to attend his Episcopal ordination two years ago. He was the first auxiliary bishop ever appointed in Las Vegas.
Las Vegas is a part of the country where the Catholic Church is growing in leaps and bounds. A number of years ago, I stood with the then Fr. Gordon as we surveyed the desert land that would become his future parish, St. Francis of Assisi in Henderson, NV. He had to build it from the ground up. Today it proudly boasts of a parish family in proximity of 10,000 families! There is also a newly established Catholic school in the parish. The area has grown so large that another neighboring Catholic parish will be established in the immediate future.
Proof of the continued Catholic growth there is the fact the Las Vegas has recently been elevated to the status of Archdiocese. On June 29th, Archbishop George Leo Thomas, the current Ordinary (head bishop) for the archdiocese, will be presented with the pallium (a symbol of his office) from the Hoy Father. Las Vegas was once part of the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas. Subsequently, it became its own diocese. Now it has been elevated to the status of archdiocese and has its own auxiliary bishop. The rapid growth continues!
Over the years I have attended various ceremonies within the diocese. I saw confirmation classes too large to be held in parish churches, necessitating the use of the Shrine of the Most Holy Redeemer on the south part of Las Vegas Boulevard (the strip). I have offered Mass and heard confessions for huge congregations from many cultures and backgrounds. There is a sizable Latino community.
Vegas has morphed from a small gambling oasis to a large metropolitan vacation destination in a little more than a century! Having personally observed the tremendous growth of Las Vegas over the years, I see how this city and its archdiocese now rivals particular parts of the country where the Catholic parishes have become mega-parishes. (The state of Florida comes to mind.) While the northeast part of the country is in noticeable church decline (recall the mergers, closures and sale of church property), other areas are experiencing the need for considerable expansion.
Incidentally, as my plane was landing, the Vegas Golden Knights won the Stanley Cup. Who would have ever thought that an ice hockey team would win a championship in the desert of Las Vegas?
Only in Vegas!
Fr. Ed NamiotkaPastor