Pinto, Carlos M. (1841–1919)

By: Steven P. Ryan, S.J.

Type: Biography

Published: May 1, 1995

Updated: April 28, 2019

Carlos M. Pinto, a Jesuit missionary and pioneer Catholic churchman who came to be known as "the Apostle of El Paso" for laying the foundation of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso, was born in Vietre (Salerno), Italy, on July 21, 1841. He entered the local college run by the Society of Jesus-whose members are commonly known as Jesuits-at age nine. At fourteen he sought and gained admittance to the order. Because of political turmoil at home, however, he studied for the priesthood in France and Spain. He later came to the United States and completed his training at the Jesuit house in Frederick, Maryland. Meanwhile, the Most Rev. John B. Lamy, Bishop of Santa Fe, had been seeking to bring Jesuit missionaries to his frontier diocese. The Jesuit province of Naples responded, and Pinto was among those assigned to the Rocky Mountain region. Beginning in 1870 he served twenty-two years in Colorado parishes.

The most significant chapter in Pinto's career, however, began in 1892, when he was designated pastor of St. Mary's Chapel in El Paso and superior of the Jesuits in New Mexico and Colorado. His vision and leadership gave immediate focus and direction to Jesuit efforts in the rapidly growing area. Pinto guided construction of the churches of Sacred Heart, Immaculate Conception, Guardian Angels, and Holy Family in El Paso; and Sagrado Corazón across the Rio Grande in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. He also directed the establishment of several schools. From a central rectory at Sacred Heart Church, Pinto supervised a community of brother Jesuits that staffed the parishes of the twin border cities as well as a string of missions in the Rio Grande valley. His efforts laid the foundation for the establishment of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso in 1915.

In a bizarre incident in 1912, Pinto was arrested after Sunday services in Juárez by Mexican revolutionaries and held for $3,000 ransom. An almost comical fiasco of missed communications between El Paso civil authorities and Mexican captors followed, and Pinto eventually secured his own release by promising to send a ransom of $100. Upon release, he kept his word and surrendered the sum, though not in person. For many years Pinto served as the de facto vicar general, or administrative deputy, of the bishops of Dallas and, later, El Paso-gaining by virtue of both his accomplishments and influence an almost legendary stature. Eventually exhausted and in poor health, he was reassigned briefly to Albuquerque, New Mexico, in April 1917. He returned to El Paso later that year and spent his final years in declining health due to a spreading paralysis that eventually left him disabled. He died on November 5, 1919, and is buried in the Jesuit plot in Concordia Cemetery, El Paso.

Ernest J. Burrus, S.J., "Jesuits Came Late, But Built with El Paso for 100 Years," Southern Jesuits 1 (December 1981). Carlos E. Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (7 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1936–58; rpt., New York: Arno, 1976). Files, Historical Archives and Museum, Catholic Diocese of El Paso. Sister M. Lilliana Owens, S.L., Reverend Carlos M. Pinto (El Paso: Revista Católica Press, 1951).

  • Peoples
  • Italians
  • Religion
  • Catholic
  • Southwest Texas
  • El Paso

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

Steven P. Ryan, S.J. , “Pinto, Carlos M.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 15, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995
April 28, 2019