Religious roots: Catholic, Episcopal, Jewish, Congregational and other pioneers in Utah started in the late 1800s

By Ben Tullis

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, July 19 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

St. Mary Magdalene, the first Catholic church in Utah, opened in November 1871.

Provided by Utah State Historical Society

On Nov. 26, 1866, a group of people gathered at East Temple (now Main Street) and 300 South in Salt Lake City to dedicate an adobe building. It had cost $5,000 to build and could seat 200 people. At 33 feet wide and 53 feet long, the building, known as Independence Hall, was neither the largest nor the most adorned in the valley.

But it was one of the most important religious buildings in Utah — and it was not built by or for Mormon pioneers.

While pioneers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were the first non-Native American settlers in the Salt Lake Valley, several other pioneers of faith sacrificed to come to Utah to establish their religion.

The first religious figures to arrive in Utah after the Mormons settled in 1847 were traveling Catholic priests who came to serve U.S. troops stationed in Utah. Bonaventure Keller of Philadelphia offered the first known Mass in Utah at Camp Floyd in 1859, according to Bernice M. Mooney's "Catholic Church in Utah." The priests only stayed for a few months and made no effort to form a permanent settlement in Utah.

The first permanent, non-LDS church formed in Utah was the First Congregational Church. The Rev. Norman McLeod first preached in Daft’s Store on Main Street on Jan. 16, 1865. The religious services continued each week, with regular attendance of more than 100 worshipers and a Sunday School established within a month after the Rev. McLeod’s first sermon, according to “Non-Mormon Religious Denominations in Utah,” a booklet compiled by Kate B. Carter of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers in December 1945.

The First Congregational Church bought property at Main Street and 300 South and built Independence Hall, according to Mary Dawn Coleman’s “The First Congregational Church in Salt Lake City, Utah.” Independence Hall was an important place for religious services and social gatherings not only for the First Congregational Church but also for other religious assemblies whose members did not have a place of their own to worship. Methodist ministers and Catholic priests preached sermons and served their congregations in the building until they could build structures of their own.

Father Edward Kelly of the Catholic Church celebrated Mass in Salt Lake City at Independence Hall in 1866. Later that same year, Father Kelly purchased land where the first Catholic church, St. Mary Magdalene, opened in November 1871. Four years later, Holy Cross Hospital opened.

In 1891, the Diocese of Salt Lake was created with Lawrence J. Scanlan as the first bishop. In 1909, the Cathedral of the Madeleine was dedicated.

"The first bishop, the Right Reverend Lawrence Scanlan, whose centenary of death we will observe May 10, 2015, undertook the building of the Cathedral of the Madeleine," said Colleen E. Gudreau, communications liaison for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake. "The Catholic miners raised funds to pay for it and for the building of local churches and schools. … The early Catholic pioneers were the foundation stones for future growth."

“Today, Catholics in Utah number well over 300,000, including 63 parishes and missions and 17 Catholic schools,” according to the Diocese of Salt Lake’s website at dioslc.org.

The arrival of Bishop Daniel S. Tuttle in 1867 marked the beginning of the Episcopal Church in the state. Bishop Tuttle had traveled from New York to take charge as missionary bishop of Montana with jurisdiction in Idaho and Utah, according to “Non-Mormon Religious Denominations in Utah.”

Bishop Tuttle preached his first sermon in Utah at Independence Hall on July 7, 1867. He supervised the construction of St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral and schools and hospitals in Salt Lake.

The Episcopal Church and the LDS Church, while having theological and philosophical differences, got along well together.

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