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5 Beautiful Catholic sites not to miss in Utah

5 Catholic sites in Utah

Wikipedia | Library of Congress - Public Domain | Map: Alexander Lukatsky | Shutterstock

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 02/11/24

If you are a Utah resident or find yourself visiting the state, check out these significant and beautiful Catholic sites.

Utah is known as “the Mormon state,” and sure enough, over 60% of Utah residents are members of that faith. But other religions are present, too, and well over 300,000 Utahns are Catholic, some 10% of the state population.

The earliest Catholic presence in Utah came in 1777 with the expedition of Francisco Atanazio Dominguez and Silvestre de Escalante from Santa Fe to California. They were the first Europeans to enter Utah. In 1859, Reverend Bonaventure Keller celebrated the first Mass in the Utah Territory, for United States Army soldiers at Camp Floyd. 

The first Catholic parish and church were established in 1871 in Salt Lake City. In 1873, Archbishop Joseph Alemany of the Archdiocese of San Francisco sent Reverend Lawrence Scanlan to Utah to manage what was then, geographically, the largest Catholic parish in the country.

Scanlan worked as a circuit rider, traveling regularly to visit the 800 Catholic soldiers, immigrant miners and railroad workers in the Utah Territory. He eventually became bishop of the Diocese of Salt Lake when it was established in 1891.

Catholics and Mormons

Catholics in Utah have lived and worshiped side-by-side with Mormons almost from the beginning, leading to some moving moments of ecumenism, like this story about the first Mass celebrated in southern Utah:

As a Catholic missionary in an area dominated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), Scanlan maintained a cordial relationship with the LDS community. In 1879, he was invited by LDS leader John Macfarlane to use the St. George Tabernacle in St. George to celebrate a Mass, with accompaniment by the tabernacle choir.

Jen Frost, a Catholic writer, shared how she found out about this story at an LDS visitor center:

We enjoyed a tour of the LDS Visitors Center, and even picked up a bit of Catholic history. The first high Mass celebrated in Southern Utah was not celebrated in a Catholic church, but at the LDS St. George Tabernacle. Over 3,000 people were in attendance at Mass, and surely were left in awe of the beauty coming from the choir – for it wasn’t the traditional choir, but the LDS Tabernacle Choir themselves! This beautiful story of interfaith service left our hearts full of hope as we said goodbye to Southern Utah.

If you are a Utah resident or find yourself visiting the state, check out these significant and beautiful Catholic sites.

The Cathedral of the Madeleine, Salt Lake City

Originally built from 1900 to 1909, the cathedral underwent an interior beautification in 1915 with the addition of murals and other features. It is a masterpiece of art and architecture, and offers an annual Arts Festival, organ festival, choir school, and numerous ministries for local involvement.

It is the only cathedral in the United States under the patronage of St. Mary Magdalene. She is believed to have been chosen as patron because her feast day is July 22, two days before Pioneer Day, a state holiday in Utah celebrating the arrival of the first Mormon settlers.

St. Joseph Catholic Church, Ogden

Utah Catholics sometimes refer to this majestic and historic building as “the Cathedral of the North.” St. Joseph Catholic Church has a long and proud history in Ogden, serving as an integral part of the community for over 120 years. 

Besides operating an elementary school and high school, many ministries, and a parish festival, St. Joseph Parish also sponsors a mission outreach program to more rural communities of Utah.

Statue of Jesus teaching children, St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Draper, Utah
St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Draper, Utah

St. John the Baptist Church, Draper

Draper and the Greater Salt Lake Area are one of the youngest and quickest growing areas in the nation, so it is of paramount importance to build up the faith of the children so that the local families may be a witness of Christ’s divine love. This is the mission of St. John the Baptist Parish.

Although a new parish, only established in 1999, the parish has grown quickly and today it offers lots of ministries and events for an active and engaged local community. The church building is modern, featuring some beautiful stained-glass windows and an open design.

St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church, Park City’s Old Town

The oldest Catholic church in Utah is the Old Town Chapel of this parish, where daily Mass and devotions are still held. This chapel is older than the town of Park City itself! The newer church building that is used on Sundays is also beautiful, with full-length windows looking out onto the mountain. 

The history of this site is very special, as their website states:

In 1881, God gave a small group of miners a mission to bring to the mountains of Park City the world’s greatest treasure: the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the Eucharist, and the Faith and Charity that flow from Him. That year, three years before the incorporation of Park City as a town, St. Mary of the Assumption Parish was founded.

The original small wood framed church was built in 1882 but burned to the ground a year later. In 1884, a new church was begun and completed. This one was of stone and still stands today as Utah’s Oldest Catholic Church. It is our Old Town Chapel.

For the miners, the prominence of that Church building atop of Park Avenue became the last bit of home they would see as they climbed to the mine entrances and descended into the earth. It was the beacon that drew them home at the end of a long day. And, in times of disaster it was the gathering place for countless worried wives and families.

St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, Orem, Utah
St. Francis of Assisi, Orem, Utah

St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, Orem

Although one of the oldest Catholic communities in Utah, the church building at St. Francis of Assisi dates from 2012. Built in a Spanish mission style, however, it fits in well with the local historic area. The church, the largest in Utah County, is notable for several interesting features: a prayer labyrinth, detailed murals, and other religious art to inspire prayer.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Salt Lake City

This church is notable for its Hispanic community, offering services in Spanish in the beautiful church building. Don’t miss the ornately carved wooden altar.

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