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El Paso, Catholic Diocese of

Okla A. McKee General Entry

The area included in the Catholic Diocese of El Paso has belonged to as many as five dioceses. Until 1620 it formed part of the Diocese of Guadalajara, Mexico. From 1620 to 1872 it was part of the Diocese of Durango. From 1872 until 1890 it was assigned to the Vicariate of Tucson, Arizona. It became part of the Diocese of Dallas in 1890 and remained so for twenty-four years. In March 1914 the Diocese of El Paso was established. The first bishop was Rev. John J. Brown, S.J., who resigned before he was consecrated. Other bishops have been Anthony J. Schuler, another Jesuit, 1915–40; Sydney Matthew Metzger, 1940–78; Patrick F. Flores, 1978–80; and Raymundo F. Peña, installed in 1980. In 1926 the Diocese of Amarillo was formed from the northeast corner of the Diocese of El Paso. The Diocese of Las Cruces was established in 1982. It covers 44,483 square miles of southern New Mexico, the greater part of which was formerly in the Diocese of El Paso, which in 1990 consisted of 26,686 square miles. Two of the original missions in the Diocese of El Paso have continually been used since 1680. They have suffered greatly, however, due to the ravages of time and the Rio Grande. Some preservation efforts have begun restoration. San Elizario, the third mission still in use as a parish church, was founded in 1752 as San Elizario Presidio with its own chapel. In 1789 it was moved to its present site. Nuestra Señora de la Limpia Concepción del Socorro Mission contains the oldest extant original building materials: heavy beams from its first permanent mission of 1681. The old church was destroyed by floods, and the present building was started in 1843. Of interest is the cemetery in front of the church with descansos (resting places) at each of the four corners. These were once common, but those in El Paso are the only ones remaining on the Texas-Mexican border at this time.

San José de Concordia el Alto was erected in 1859 on the site of the present Concordia Cemetery. It was the nearest center of Catholic worship for El Paso residents at the time. From 1877 to 1887 the church of adobe, now called Our Lady of Mount Carmel, was built for the Spanish-speaking and Tigua and Piros Indians. It was originally called Ysleta del Sur to distinguish it from Isleta, New Mexico (see YSLETA, TEXAS). There was no church in El Paso proper before 1881. Catholics boarded a hand-pulled ferry to attend Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Juárez. In 1882 under the Vicariate of Tucson, lots were purchased on North Oregon Street as a site for the first El Paso Church, known as St. Mary's or Holy Family, which was completed in November 1882; the first Mass was on Christmas Day. A year later two Masses were offered on Sundays in the Chapel, one for Anglos and one for Hispanics. Across the Rio Grande from El Paso del Norte, Mexico, was the small village of Franklin, Texas. In September 1888 the Mexican town changed its name officially to Juárez, and Franklin became El Paso, Texas. In 1892 the Rev. Carlos Pinto, S.J., vicar of the area when it was part of the Diocese of Durango, was named vicar of the Diocese of Dallas and superior of all the Jesuits in the zone. In El Paso he was deputed to establish two parishes, one for the English-speaking and the other for the Spanish-speaking. After Pinto's efforts, Catholic parishes began to flourish in El Paso. His recommendations were responsible for Sacred Heart Church for the Spanish-speaking and Immaculate Conception Church, the pro-cathedral for the Anglo-Americans. St. Patrick's Cathedral was dedicated in 1915. That part of the Diocese of El Paso known as West Texas, east of El Paso, was in the jurisdiction of Dallas in its early stages of development. Missionaries from various orders commuted by horseback and early automobiles to serve the parishes in small villages. Most of this area is still part of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso. When S. M. Metzger became bishop in 1940, he found it necessary to ask for funds to revive the diocese. With the help of the Catholic Extension Society he traveled the United States, East and West, the first few years of his tenure, making his appeal from the pulpit. His success was evident in the continuing and establishing of Catholic ministries and institutions. He retired in 1978 and died in April 1986, greatly mourned.

The diocese established two Catholic Youth Organization camps in the New Mexico mountains. A retreat operated by Franciscans, Holy Cross Retreat, was established near Las Cruces. On the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation, Franciscan father Albert Braun and the Indians built their large church in a mountain setting. In El Paso, St. Mary's School was opened for Catholic children in 1903. The earliest school of the Sisters of Loretto, Loretto Academy, dates from 1879 in San Elizario and, after moving to El Paso in 1892, continued to operate in the 1990s. Hotel Dieu, a hospital opened in 1892, operated for many decades. St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and Cathedral High School, opened in 1924, has grown with the population. The magnificent statue of Christ the King on a mountain above El Paso overlooks two countries, three counties, and three states; it made possible by Monsignor Lourdes Costa and his parishioners. The Diocese of El Paso has had three diocesan newspapers (see CATHOLIC JOURNALISM). Two Mexican seminaries, St. Anthony's and Roger Bacon, are in El Paso. The diocese has been a unique mixture of two cultures that closely support each other. Bishop Peña, with the assistance of Ricardo Machado, Father Juventino Celino, and Sr. Noreen Creen, promoted Synod 85–86, a conference of priests, religious, and laity in which Anglo-American and Hispanic Catholics participated equally. A renovated Pastoral Center housed the offices and ministries of the diocese in 1990.

El Paso Times, March 24, 1984.


  • Religion
  • Catholic

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Okla A. McKee, “El Paso, Catholic Diocese of,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 20, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.