LS: History Here and Now December 19, 2008

Town’s first plans included Catholic church, hospital

September, 1881. A party of five horsemen rode toward the confluence of the Grand and Gunnison rivers. They were scouting land in the unoccupied Grand Valley. Later they accompanied the group of Gov. George A. Crawford as they claimed the site of Grand Junction.

The horsemen were a typical American mixed group and included William McGinley, who was an immigrant from Ireland and a Catholic. The first census of Grand Junction in 1885 listed people from many states and countries, including one man who was born in the Sandwich Islands, which we now call Hawaii. It was quite a cosmopolitan populace who had come to this place.

The numerous Catholics among them wanted to organize a church. Father Robert Servant arrived as a representative of Archbishop Joseph Machebeuf of Santa Fe, N. M. Grand Junction was still part of the vast archdiocese of Santa Fe, which ranged over deserts and mountain ranges.

The town company had assigned four lots at the corner of Ninth Street and White Avenue to be the Catholic site. Father Servant accepted that, but reserved the land for later use when the town had grown out that far. Meanwhile he wanted a location that was more immediately accessible to potential members.

The Baptists had declined the Third Street and White Avenue parcel. Father Servant asked for that land, too, and was granted it. He said later, “ I selected the present location of the church and it was out among the greasewood bush without a tree or house near it.”

An early ledger of the town shows a block assigned for a Catholic hospital. It was to be the block from First to Second streets, White to Grand avenues. There also was to be a city infirmary in the southeast corner of town, away from everyone. That infirmary was not built, but when St. Mary’s Hospital was established in 1896, the hospital occupied the corner of 11th Street and Colorado Avenue, and eventually had the whole block. It was in the vicinity of that projected infirmary.

The various deeds were held in the name of Archbishop Machebeuf of Santa Fe. He was well-known in his day, and later he became famous because of a book. Willa Cather wrote a splendid novel called “Death Comes for the Archbishop.” The main character was French-born Jean Marie Latour, which is the fictional name of the actual Archbishop Joseph Machebeuf.

On June 17, 1883, the newspaper reported that Bishop Machebeuf came to “ hold services in J. E. Rapelyea’s building on Colorado Avenue between Fifth and Sixth streets.” Father Servant was appointed to serve churches in Grand Junction as well as Delta, Montrose, Ouray and Telluride. Constantly traveling by train and stage, he coped with a demanding schedule.

Eventually he was able to settle in Grand Junction in 1887. He was succeeded on Nov. 30, 1887, by Father James McGreevey.

St. Joseph’s parish had a new brick building ready on Palm Sunday, April 6, 1884. The famous archbishop was there for a dedication of the church. The new building was not right on the corner. It was about 75 feet to the east on the property.

The 1884 building was expanded as the congregation grew. Finally the building was outgrown and a larger church was erected on the corner of Third and White. It was opened on March 24, 1907. This was on Palm Sunday, again. This building served until 1993 when a new church was built on the east side of the campus. The 1907 building was remodeled to become the parish hall.

The 1884 building was replaced in 1909-10 by a two-story brick rectory for the priests. That site is now the location of a lawn between the 1907 and 1993 buildings.

Some important information for this column was researched from “St. Joseph’s Catholic Church the first 100 years 1884–1984,” written by Mary Louise Giblin Henderson.

David Sundal researched and wrote the local history at He is a charter member of the Mesa County Historical Society since 1976, has been an officer and contributes articles to the society’s newsletter.

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