This weekend marks the diamond jubilee of the official establishment of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, an historic event that signified the rapid growth and importance of the church in the Golden State over the previous century.

In 1840, Pope Gregory XVI established a hierarchy in California which, over the next 96 years, saw seven bishops lead the local church through several divisions of episcopal jurisdiction took place as California --- admitted to the Union in 1850 as a non-slavery state --- grew into national prominence. 

Finally, in July 1936, an announcement from Pope Pius XI declared, in part: “We have by our Letter ‘Nimis Amplas’ raised your Cathedral Church … to the rank and dignity of a Metropolitan Church under the name of Los Angles and have granted to it all the rights, privileges, honors and prerogatives which other Archbishops throughout the world possess and enjoy.” 

In establishing California as the only state in the U.S. with two archdioceses (Los Angeles and San Francisco), Pope Pius also created the new Diocese of San Diego, placed under the jurisdiction of Bishop Francis Buddy, an office he served for 30 years.

The new archbishop for Los Angeles, John J. Cantwell, previously headed the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles for five years and the Diocese of Los Angeles-San Diego for 14 years, and at age 62 accepted this auspicious honor of the papal appointment. For 11 years he headed the new archdiocese through tremendous growth, while continuing to extend refuge to thousands of persecuted immigrants from Mexico. In his 30 years of leadership, he created 50 Hispanic parishes and missions before his death in 1947.

The inspiring enthronement for the new archbishop in 1936 took place on Thursday, December 3, at St. Vibiana Cathedral. The Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop (and later Cardinal) Amleto Giovanni Cicognani, officiated and 50 archbishops and bishops assisted at the ceremony that elevated Los Angeles as the 16th archdiocese in the U.S. 

More than 500 seats were reserved for clergy as thousands of the laity assembled to greet the new archbishop. The ceremonies were broadcast over KMTR radio (570 AM, later KLAC), and The Tidings noted in a front page story that “the bells of St. Vibiana’s rang out in a joyous peal as if to mark an occasion unique in their history.”

At the ceremony, Archbishop Cantwell noted, “I cannot forget to do honor to the memory of those valiant men who in tears and blood sowed the seeds of faith and religion.” Those he cited included Fra Junipero Serra, “California’s Apostle,” and Bishop Garcia Diego Moreno, the first bishop of both Californias, “who came here not in search of gold but to win souls for Christ. Under the mantle of Our Lady of the Angels, the little pueblo has grown to greatness.” 

The following Sunday, more than 5,000 Holy Name Society laymen --- grouped in parish delegations and headed by the pastors of more than 200 parishes --- assembled in the Shrine Auditorium in tribute to the new archbishop. The main speech by J. Wiseman MacDonald --- the local attorney for the Roman Catholic Church since it had been the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles --- eloquently praised the prior accomplishments of the archbishop. 

“Your great heart has gone out to God’s poor and the afflicted and through your very material and personal help,” declared Macdonald, founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Councils of Los Angeles in 1908. “The poor and the sick have been assisted most substantially.”

In his closing comments to the large gathering, Archbishop Cantwell expressed his gratitude “for this distinguished reception. But the pomp and circumstance attending the inauguration of a new Ecclesiastical Province should remind us that the honor is due to our union with the venerable See of Peter and to our loyalty in things of faith and morals. Your zeal and your charity are a glory to the Church.”

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