The first Catholic priests arrived in Phoenix during the late 1870's. Their success can be attributed in great part to local prominent merchant Jesus Otero. He contributed greatly to the building and establishment of St. Mary's, Phoenix's first Catholic church.
ARRIVAL OF JESUS OTERO
Jesus Otero arrived in Phoenix after Jack Swilling's efforts to colonize the location in 1868. (Barrios, 2008). He was an esteemed member of the emergent Phoenix community and known as a benevolent soul. (Cancilla, 2009). During the 1870's, the home of Jesus Otero was used to hold Catholic mass for the visiting priests from Florence. Understanding the growing need for a more permanent location, Otero joined forces with Miguel Peralta and Carlos Perrazzo who made a joint donation of land to build Phoenix's first Catholic Church. Otero also helped plan the church. (Luckingham, 2009). The United States Federal Census of 1880 reports that Jesus Otero and his parents were all from Mexico. This does not automatically suggest that he was born across the modern U.S. / Mexico international border, as Arizona belonged to Mexico at the time of Jesus's birth around 1833. It is likely that Jesus was born on Arizona soil.
CORRECT NAME OF PHOENIX'S FIRST CATHOLIC CHURCH
According to the city's website, "[t]he first Catholic priest came to Phoenix in 1872, but it was not until after 1881 that an adobe church building, the Sacred Heart of St. Louis at Third and Monroe streets, replaced the [Jesus] Otero home as a place for Catholics to worship." The actual name of Phoenix's first church is clarified on a plaque at the Basilica of St. Mary's that says, "St. Mary's is the oldest Catholic church in the Valley founded in 1881 and staffed by the Franciscan Friars since 1895. The Basilica sits over the site of the original adobe church. The present church was built in 1915, declared a National Historic Landmark in 1978, and designated a basilica in 1985 by Pope John Paul II." (For a view of the basilica plaque see below video on St. Mary's Basilica).
Inside the modern Basilica of St. Mary's on the right wall as you face the altar is an ornate blue stained glass window inscribed to the memory of Jesus Otero. When you visit Phoenix, AZ and pass by the Basilica of St. Mary's, you are certain to hear the church bells ring. As they ring, remember the sacrifices made by Jesus Otero and those Mexican and Italian businessmen who were instrumental in giving Phoenix its' first Catholic Church.
Dyer, C. J, Byrnes Litho, and Label & Litho. Co Schmidt. Bird's eye view of Phoenix, Maricopa Co., Arizona. Phoenix, 1885. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <https://www.loc.gov/item/75693082/>.
Barrios, Frank. Mexicans in Phoenix. Arcadia Publishing. Phoenix: 2008, p.7.
Bradford, Luckingham. Minorities in Phoenix. A Profile of Mexican American, Chinese American, and African American Communities, 1860 - 1992. University of Arizona Press. Tucson: 1994, p.19.
DeLugan, Diana. Bells of St. Mary's. Phoenix, 2014. Video. Retrieved from YouTube, <https://youtu.be/4AAvsI748Fc>.
Martinelli, Phylis Cancilla. Undermining Race: Ethnic Identities in Arizona's Copper Camps, 1880-1920. University of Arizona Press. Tucson: 2009, p.36.
Phoenix City Government. City of Phoenix History. Retrieved from the City of Phoenix History Web page, https://www.phoenix.gov/pio/city-publications/city-history.
U.S. Federal Government. "United States Census, 1880," database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MH24-GXD : 12 August 2017), Jesus Otero, Phoenix, Maricopa, Arizona, United States; citing enumeration district ED 18, sheet 103B, NARA microfilm publication T9 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), roll 0036; FHL microfilm 1,254,036.
UND68. St. Mary's Basilica, Phoenix, Arizona As Shown by Pastor Rev. Vince Mesi. Location Unkn, 2012. Video. Retrieved from YouTube, <https://youtu.be/Zob6MdfcxiQ>.
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