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Diocese of Cheyenne
DIOCESE OF CHEYENNE (CHEYENNENSIS)
The Diocese of Cheyenne, established 9 August, 1887, is coextensive with the State of Wyoming, an area of 97,575 square miles. Its first bishop, Rt. Rev. Maurice F. Burke, was consecrated 28 October, 1887. Wyoming had been included in the Diocese of Omaha, established in 1885; before that it belonged to the Vicariate Apostolic of Nebraska. The first Mass, of which there is a record, offered up within the territory of Wyoming was celebrated by the Jesuit missionary, Father De Smet, on the open prairie at the fur-traders' rendezvous on Green River, Sunday, 4 July, 1840. The congregation was composed of Flathead, Snake and other Indians, and a motley group of trappers and hunters. Father De Smet passed through Wyoming many times within the next eleven years on missionary trips, and as army-chaplain and Indian pacificator. Priests from Canada passed through en route to Indian missions, and ministered to Canadian fur-traders and other Catholics whom they met at Fort Laramie and elsewhere in Wyoming.
Owing to the naturally arid soil, the settlement of Wyoming has been very slow. Absentee cattle-owners ranged vast herds freely everywhere within its boundaries. The development of mines waited on the tardy building of railroads. Scores of Catholics lived in this territory over thirty years and reared families without sacraments, Mass or priest.
The losses to the Faith in Wyoming, as in neighbouring states, have been appalling. Vicars Apostolic, afterwards bishops, had no funds for educating or supporting missionary priests. It would seem that in 1887, as indeed for nearly a decade after, Wyoming's need was not so much diocesan organization as travelling missionaries. The ecclesiastical census of 1907 gives the diocese about 10,000 Catholics in a population of about 100,000; 22 churches, 7 of which had been built within the year; 17 priests, 20 missions without churches, one academy and day-school in Cheyenne and an Indian school at St. Stephen's Mission.
J. A. Duffy