Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission

Catholicism and Hispanics in Utah

As the Spanish-speaking population of Salt Lake exploded in the beginning of the twentieth century, the need for a Catholic mission to better minister to members and protect them from other missionary efforts resulted in the Our Lady of Guadalupe mission.

In the first half of the twentieth century, religious diversity within Salt Lake was growing along with ethnic diversity. Saint Patrick’s Catholic Parish dedicated itself to ministering to Italian Catholics. However, Father Francis Alva noticed a distinctive lack of accommodation for Spanish-speaking patrons, many of whom hailed from New Mexico. Beginning in 1920, Father Alva held mass in Spanish. Concurrently, he wrote to the Catholic Diocese asking for a separate school and church to be formed in the “mission style” to adjust to the city’s demographics. He recommended that this mission be called Our Lady of Guadalupe—a clear reference to Mexico’s patron saint.

The need for Spanish-speaking priests was not fulfilled until 1927, when Father Perfecto Arrellano joined Saint Patrick’s parish. For the next three years, the mission experienced a quick turnover of four Spanish-speaking priests until 1930. While the mission went through a revolving door of priests, Mexican nuns—refugees from tension between the Catholic church and the Mexican government—kept the mission afloat. Called Las Madres (The Mothers), were sent to Salt Lake to start and maintain school programs for the mission’s children. They became so busy with these new duties that their superiors reprimanded them for not keeping a twenty-four-hour vigil of the Holy Eucharist, as was required by their order.

In 1930, Father Collins came to Guadalupe. Despite not knowing Spanish, Father Collins immediately began his ministry over the predominantly Spanish-speaking congregation. His commitment to learning Spanish and the congregants’ culture endeared him to those in the mission. As the Great Depression continued, the mission’s budget was extremely limited, but the mission still provided space to hold activities and celebrations, as well as sponsor a Boy Scout troop. It was also in meetings held by the mission that members of the mission envisaged community outreach programs such as Spanish Speaking Organization for Community, Integrity, and Opportunity—an organization that advocated for the welfare of Hispanics in Utah during the latter half of the twentieth century. In 1944, as the mission grew to accumulate more than 1800 members, the Church officially raised the mission to become Our Lady of Guadalupe parish from West Temple and 500 West to 100 and 600 South.