Heritage Road
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By Peter Bradley

The change of diocesan bishops is an important time in the life of a Catholic Diocese.

On December 28, 2020, Rome accepted the resignation of Bishop Gerald Barnes and Coadjutor Bishop Alberto Rojas became the new Diocesan Bishop.

When we study the episcopal history of bishops who had jurisdictional responsibility for San Bernardino and Riverside counties, Bishop Rojas is both the third and 30th Ordinary. This article will explore this sacred honor.

In 1493, the Papal Line of Demarcation gave Spain church sovereignty over all the Americas, except for Brazil. This jurisdiction was exercised by the Cardinal-Archbishop of Seville, Spain, Pedro Gonzalez de Mendoza (1476-1496), and his successor Francisco de Cisneros (1496-1520’s).

After the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1521, the Spanish tradition of establishing a diocese as soon as possible after taking territorial possession was quickly evidenced in the new colony.

In 1530, the Diocese of Mexico City was formed, and became an Archdiocese in 1547. Its northern border extended beyond the Gulf of California to include the area encompassing San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

Jurisdiction for the Inland area went to the Diocese of Durango in 1621, with Bishop Gonzalo de Hermosillo as its first prelate. There were no visitations of the northern region until 1727, by Bishop Don Benito Crespo, who performed numerous Confirmations.

In 1769, Father Junipero Serra began the first of the Upper California missions at San Diego. Since Fr. Serra and his successors were given the power to confirm, the bishops from the Diocese of Durango ceased their visitations.

On May 7, 1779, Pope Pius VI created the Diocese of Sonora with its first Bishop, Most Rev. Antonio de los Reyes. He and his successors also did not directly involve themselves in the Upper California areas, as 16 additional missions were added by the Franciscans from 1776-1823.

Due to the success of the Mexican Revolution (1810-1821) against Spain, no bishops were appointed after the last bishop’s death in 1825. In 1833, Mexico secularized the missions.

In 1840, Pope Gregory XVI created the new Diocese of Both California’s (Alta and Baja) with Rev. Garcia Diego as its first Bishop. He chose Santa Barbara as the Episcopal See.

After Bishop Diego died on April 30, 1846, his secretary, Rev. Jose Maria Gonzalez Rubio, was appointed as Vicar five months later. During this time, the Mexican War would lead to California becoming the 31st U.S. state when Congress passed the “California Statehood Act” on September 9, 1850.

After the Mexican War, the name of the Diocese of Both California’s was changed to the Diocese of Monterey. With California becoming an American state, the ecclesiastical jurisdictional lines needed to be changed. On December 21, 1851, the Diocese of Monterey was removed from the Archdiocese of Mexico City. The first American Bishop for the Monterey Diocese was the Most Rev. Joseph Sadoc Alemany, appointed on June 30, 1850.

On July 29, 1853, Rome created a separate province in California. Alta California was divided into the Archdiocese of San Francisco for the north and the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles in the south. Bishop Thaddeus Amat became the Diocesan Ordinary for the southern diocese on March 12, 1854.

On June 1, 1922, the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles was divided into the Diocese of Los Angeles-San Diego and the Diocese of Monterey-Fresno. Bishop John Joseph Cantwell (1922-1936) was the Diocesan Bishop who was responsible for San Bernardino and Riverside counties. After only 14 years, another division resulted in the creation of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Diocese of San Diego (1936). The Inland area would now be led by a bishop from the first California Mission.

The first Bishop of San Diego was Bishop Charles Buddy (1936-1966), who would oversee significant growth in the years after World War II. The next two San Diego bishops who provided pastoral and spiritual leadership for San Bernardino and Riverside counties were Bishop Francis James Furey (1966-1969) and Bishop Leo Thomas Maher (1969-1978).

When the Diocese of San Bernardino was created in 1978, a local native of San Bernardino was named as the founding Bishop, Most Rev. Phillip Straling. In 1996, the first Auxiliary Bishop, Gerald R. Barnes, became the second Ordinary. The third Ordinary named was the Coadjutor Bishop Alberto Rojas, who had served as an Auxiliary Bishop in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

The tradition of the Catholic Church is one of its many strengths. This review of episcopal lineage demonstrates the continuity of pastoral and spiritual care for the Catholics of San Bernardino and Riverside counties. In summary, Bishop Alberto Rojas is the third Diocesan Bishop for the Diocese of San Bernardino, and also the 30th Bishop who has cared for the
Catholics of San Bernardino and Riverside counties since 1493.

Peter Bradley is Archvist in the Diocese of San Bernardino.