Capt. Juan Bautista Anza left Sonora, Mexico seeking a land link to the San Gabriel Mission. It was during this expedition that the first Mass in the present day Diocese was celebrated near Riverside on March 21, 1774 by Rev. Francisco Garces, who had accompanied Capt. Anza on the expedition.
The name “San Bernardino” was also associated with the San Gabriel Mission. In 1810, Rev. Francisco Dumetz left the Mission seeking to establish chapels to the east. During his travels, he decided to build a chapel in a beautiful valley. Fr. Dumetz named the valley “San Bernardino” in honor of St. Bernardine of Siena, whose feast day it was on May 20, 1810.
In 1842, a group of farmers left Abiquiu, New Mexico seeking new land and followed the Sante Fe Trail settling along the Santa Ana River in today’s south Colton. The new community was named Aqua Mansa. After the new state of California was created in 1850, Bishop Joseph Sadoc Alemany of the Diocese of Monterrey – Los Angeles named one of his first parishes in Aqua Mansa, San Salvador de Jurupa in 1852. The pastor was Rev. Amable Petithomme, SSCC.
After the Mormons left the San Bernardino valley in 1857 to return to Utah, the city Of San Bernardino began to grow. St. Bernardine Parish was founded in 1862 and is today the oldest parish in the Diocese. Rev. P.J. Stockman (1874-1895) pastor at St. Bernardine was a gifted missionary and builder. In 1886, he began a mission in Riverside that would become a full parish in 1893, St. Francis de Sales, when Riverside County was formed.
The southern part of California developed more slowly than northern California. In 1880, there were only 11,000 people in Los Angeles, compared to 185,000 Catholics in the Archdiocese of San Franicsco.
The early commitment to Catholic education was evident with the founding of St. Catherine Convent School in San Bernardino (1880) and the elementary school at Sacred Heart Parish in Redlands started by Msgr. Thomas Fitzgerald (1895-1930) in 1897. Two high schools were begun in the 1920’s: St. Bernardine High School in San Bernardino and St. Francis de Sales High School in Riverside.
As the United States government focused on the needs of Native Americans and their reservations, Bishop Francis Mora of the Monterrey-Los Angeles Diocese opened St. Boniface Indian School in Banning (1890). This industrial training school would serve the Native American children and later juvenile youth of the courts for 80 years.
The Mexican Revolution of 1910-1917 forced many people to flee Mexico and settle in southern California. The continued growth led to the formation of the new Diocese of Los Angeles-San Diego in 1922. During the 1920’s, there were 16 parishes begun in the two counties of San Bernardino and Riverside. St. Bernardine Hospital in San Bernardino is built in 1931.
In 1936, San Bernardino and Riverside counties became part of the new Diocese of San Diego. Post World War II brought much growth to the Inland Empire. Between 1945 and 1950, 15 new parishes were started in the two counties. Guiding the growth of the Catholic Church in the Riverside area was Msgr. Peter Lynch (1934-1974) who was pastor at St. Francis de Sales Parish for four decades. Aquinas High School in San Bernardino and Notre Dame High School in Riverside were both opened in the 1950’s.
Responding to the growth in the northern two counties, the Diocese of San Diego opened a regional ministry center in San Bernardino in 1970. Between 1972-1976, a Diocesan Synod was held in San Diego; the executive coordinator was Rev. Phillip Straling.
On July 14, 1978, Pope Paul VI created the Diocese of San Bernardino. This new diocese became the 11th in the state of California.
Peter Bradley is Archivist in the Diocese of San Bernardino.