For faster navigation, this Iframe is preloading the Wikiwand page for Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena.

Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena

Diocese of Helena

Dioecesis Helenensis
Cathedral of Saint Helena
Coat of arms
Country United States
TerritoryMontana Lewis and Clark, Teton, Flathead, Lincoln, Missoula, Sanders, Powell, Granite, Ravalli, Deer Lodge, Silver Bow, Jefferson, Broadwater, Gallatin, Madison, Lake, and Beaverhead counties plus parts of Meagher, Musselshell, and Toole counties in Montana
Ecclesiastical provincePortland
Area51,922 sq mi (134,480 km2)
- Total
- Catholics
(as of 2016)
44,413[1] (7.5%)
Sui iuris churchLatin Church
RiteRoman Rite
EstablishedMarch 7, 1884
CathedralCathedral of Saint Helena
Patron saintSt. Helena
Current leadership
BishopAustin Anthony Vetter
Metropolitan ArchbishopAlexander K. Sample

The Diocese of Helena (Latin: Dioecesis Helenensis) is the Latin Church ecclesiastical territory, or diocese, of the Catholic Church in western Montana in the United States. It is a suffragan diocese of the ecclesiastical province of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon.

The mother church of the Diocese of Helena is the Cathedral of Saint Helena in Helena. The diocese was erected on March 7, 1884.


The Diocese of Helena covers 51,922 square miles, encompassing 21 counties and parts of two others. As of 2023, the diocese had 57 parishes and 38 missions divided into six deaneries: Bozeman, Butte, Conrad, Helena, Kalispell, and Missoula.[2]

The diocese in 2023 was served by 61 priest, 34 permanent deacons, seven religious brothers and four nuns.[2]


1800 to 1880

The earliest Catholic presence in western Montana was the arrival of Catholic Iroquois/Haudenosaunee fur traders who settled with the Flathead Nation around 1811. The Flathead sent emissaries to St. Louis, Missouri four times in the 1830s to petition the Diocese of St. Louis for their own missionaries.

Finally, in 1840, the diocese sent missionary Reverend Pierre-Jean de Smet to Montana. The next year, he returned to Montana to found St. Mary's Mission near present-day Missoula. In 1844, DeSmet worked to create St. Ignatius's Mission north of Missoula.[3][4]

In 1873, Catholic missionaries built the first Catholic chapel in Missoula, then constructed St. Francis Xavier Church there in 1881.[5] In Butte, the first Catholic church, St. Patrick's, also opened in 1881.[6]

1880 to 1900

The Cathedral of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, Helena's first cathedral.

In April 1883, Pope Leo XIII erected the Apostolic Vicariate of Montana, including what is present day Montana. He appointed Bishop Jean-Baptiste Brondel of the Diocese of Vancouver Island as the apostolic vicar.[7] One year later, the same pope created the Diocese of Helena to replace the vicariate, with Brondel as its first bishop.

During his tenure, Brondel traveled throughout the state, establishing several new parishes and building churches.[8] The first Catholic church in Bozeman was the Shèn White Chapel, constructed in 1886.[9]

He also significantly increased the number of priests; by 1903, the number of seminarians in Montana increased from one to thirteen.[8] Brondel took a particular interest in the evangelization of Native Americans, and the United States government often used his popularity among that community to further its aims.[10] In 1889, Montana achieved statehood. St. Matthew's Church, the first Catholic church in Kalispell, was dedicated in 1894.[11]

1900 to 1933

After Brondel died in 1903, the next bishop of Helena was Reverend John Carroll of the Diocese of Dubuque, named by Pope Pius X.[12] That same year, the pope erected the Diocese of Great Falls to cover the eastern half of the state.[1] When Carroll became bishop, the diocese had 53 priests, 65 churches, and nine parochial schools to serve 50,000 Catholics.[13] In 1904, Carroll started the construction of the Cathedral of Saint Helena.[14]

Carroll was a vocal opponent of socialism, which he believed made "no allowance for the development of man's talents, intellectual gifts, his spirit of economy or his ability."[15] He also condemned alcohol as "the most prolific source of poverty and misery"[16] and successfully lobbied the Helena City Council to require bars to close by midnight.[17] Carroll died in Europe in 1925.

Pope Pius XI named Reverend George Finnigan in 1927 to be the third bishop of Helena. Finnigan had been the provincial for the US Province of the Congregation of Holy Cross.[18]

When Finnigan took office, the diocese had 104 priests, 101 churches, 24 parochial schools, and a Catholic population of 64,000.[19] The Blackfoot Confederacy adopted Finnigan into the tribe in Browning in 1928. Mountain Chief gave Finnigan the name "Na-toa-ye-owa-shin" ("Holy Word"). Finnigan raised money to upgrade their churches, schools and infrastructure.[20] The diocese also responded to the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and a severe drought by increasing its care for the poor.[20] Finnigan worked hard to gain accreditation and long-term financial support for Mount St. Charles College. Finnigan died in 1932.

1933 to 1975

In 1933, Pope Pius XI appointed Reverend Ralph Hayes from the Diocese of Pittsburgh as the fourth bishop of Helena. After two years in Helena, Hayes was named rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome.[21] To replace Hayes, Pope Pius XI appointed Monsignor Joseph Gilmore of Helena. During his 26-year-long tenure, Gilmore presided over a period of great growth for the diocese. In addition to the material development, programs were developed to foster vocations, help resettle refugees from World War II, retrain unskilled workers, aid in adoptions, and promote the lay apostolate.[22]

After Gilmore died in 1969, Pope Paul VI named Monsignor Raymond Hunthausen of Helena as the next bishop of the diocese.[23] Starting in 1976, Hunthausen worked with Call to Action, a progressive Catholic group, and sought to implement their program. His tenure as bishop of Helena was marked by increased lay involvement in church matters, the establishment of a mission in Guatemala, the closure of several Catholic elementary and high schools, and the strengthening of religious education programs. Hunthausen was named archbishop of the Archdiocese of Seattle in 1975.

1975 to present

Reverend Elden Curtiss of the Diocese of Baker was the next bishop of Helena, named by Paul VI in 1976.[24] After 17 years as bishop of Helena, Curtiss became archbishop of the Archdiocese of Omaha in 1993. Pope John Paul II appointed Monsignor Alexander Brunett of the Archdiocese of Detroit to replace Curtiss.[25] Shortly after his arrival in Helena, Brunett began touring the diocese, attending welcoming ceremonies and visiting parishes. He regularly visited local Indian reservations, and was initiated into the Blackfeet Nation, receiving the name "Holy Eagle Feather". Brunett was named archbishop of Seattle in 1997.

Monsignor Robert C. Morlino of the Diocese of Kalamazoo was named bishop of Helena by John Paul II in 1999. In 2003, Morlino became bishop of the Diocese of Madison.[26] Auxiliary Bishop George Thomas of Seattle replaced Morlino in 2004, appointed by John Paul II. On January 31, 2014, the diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as part of a $15 million settlement intended to go to 362 victims of sex abuse by clergy.[27][28][29] In 2018, Pope Francis selected Thomas to serve as bishop of the Diocese of Las Vegas.

The current bishop of Helena, as of 2023, is Austin Vetter from the Diocese of Bismarck. He was named by Francis in 2018.[30] The diocese in 2022 sold one of their properties, the former Temple Emanu-El in Helena, to the Montana Jewish Project.[31] It is the oldest synagogue in the state.[32][33]

Sexual abuse

In 1993, Bishop Curtiss apologized to the public on the handling of sexual abuse accusations against Reverend Wilson Smart. In 1989, a victim accused Smart of sexual abuse of children. After sending Smart to a rehabilitation center for alcohol abuse in the late 70s, Curtiss had resigned him to a parish after treatment. According to Curtiss, he made this decision "without ever having examined his file and with no indication of any sexual problem." Smart admitted molesting more than 30 boys from 1957 to 1978. Curtiss discovered that the diocese knew in 1959 about Smart's attraction to boys and did nothing about it. The diocese settled with four of Smart's victims out of court, one for $1.7 million.[34]

Curtiss faced similar criticism in 2001 in regard to a priest accused of accessing child pornography. Curtiss, it was alleged, had failed to bring the case to the attention of the authorities, and had chosen to send the priest for counseling and to reassign the priest, removing him from his high-school teaching position but reassigning him to a middle-school.[35]


Apostolic Vicar of Montana

Jean-Baptiste Brondel (1883–1884)
- Augustin Ravoux, S.J. (appointed in 1868), incapacitated, unable to assume office

Bishops of Helena

  1. Jean-Baptiste Brondel (1884–1903)
  2. John Patrick Carroll (1904–1925)
  3. George Joseph Finnigan (1927–1932)
  4. Ralph Leo Hayes (1933–1935), appointed Rector of the Pontifical North American College and Titular Bishop and later Bishop of Davenport
  5. Joseph Michael Gilmore (1935–1962)
  6. Raymond Gerhardt Hunthausen (1962–1975), appointed Archbishop of Seattle
  7. Elden Francis Curtiss (1976–1993), appointed Archbishop of Omaha
  8. Alexander Joseph Brunett (1994–1997), appointed Archbishop of Seattle
  9. Robert C. Morlino (1999–2003), appointed Bishop of Madison
  10. George Leo Thomas (2004–2018), appointed Bishop of Las Vegas and later elevated to Archbishop
  11. Austin Anthony Vetter (2019–present)

Other diocesan priests who became bishops


The Diocese of Helena has one college, three high schools and six primary schools. The total non-college enrollment as of 2023 was 1150 students.[2]

Higher education

Carroll College – Helena

High schools

Elementary schools

  • Butte Central Elementary – Butte
  • De La Salle Blackfeet School – Browning
  • St. Andrew School – Helena
  • St Joseph Catholic School – Missoula
  • St Matthew Elementary – Kalispell[36]
Coat of arms of Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena
Arms was designed and adopted when the diocese was erected
The diocesan arms consists of a field of alternating silver (white) and green chevrons. On this field are the conjoined cross and a crown.
The chevrons represent the mountain peaks in the diocese. The conjoined represent Helen, empress and mother of Constantine the Great, patroness of the diocese.

See also


  1. ^ a b "Helena (Latin (or Roman) Diocese) [Catholic-Hierarchy]". Retrieved Jun 22, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c "About – The Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena". Retrieved 2023-10-05.
  3. ^ "Pierre-Jean de Smet | Jesuit missionary | Britannica". Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  4. ^ "Montana, Catholic Church in |". Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  5. ^ Program, The Montana National Register Sign. "St. Francis Xavier Church - Missoula Downtown Historic District". Historic Montana. Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  6. ^ Program, The Montana National Register Sign. "St. Patrick's Catholic Church - Butte National Historic Landmark District". Historic Montana. Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  7. ^ Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Helena" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  8. ^ a b "Bishop John Baptist Brondel". Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011.
  9. ^ "About Shen - SHÈN". 2020-08-10. Retrieved 2023-10-05.
  10. ^ "John Baptist Brondel". Catholic Encyclopedia.
  11. ^ "History of the Building | | St. Matthew's Parish, Kalispell MT". Retrieved 2023-10-05.
  12. ^ "Bishop John Patrick Carroll".
  13. ^ Catholic Directory, Almanac and Clergy List. M.H. Wiltzius. 1904.
  14. ^ "HISTORY". Cathedral St. Helena. Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  15. ^ "SOUNDS A WARNING ON SOCIALISM". The Butte Daily Post. May 6, 1907.
  17. ^ "THEY FAVOR EARLY CLOSING". The Butte Daily Post. November 30, 1907.
  18. ^ "Bishop George Joseph Finnigan [Catholic-Hierarchy]". Retrieved 2022-11-10.
  19. ^ The Official Catholic Directory. P.J. Kenedy. 1925.
  20. ^ a b "DOH Previous Bishops: Bishop George J. Finnigan, CSC (1927-1932)". Archived from the original on 2013-06-24. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
  21. ^ "A brief history of the Diocese of Helena". Archived from the original on 2008-07-05. Retrieved 2020-07-13.
  22. ^ "A brief history of the Diocese of Helena". Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena. Archived from the original on 2008-07-05.
  23. ^ "Archbishop Raymond Gerhardt Hunthausen [Catholic-Hierarchy]". Retrieved 2023-10-05.
  24. ^ "1976-1993 Bishop Curtiss". Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena. Retrieved 2015-01-04.
  25. ^ "Archbishop Alexander Joseph Brunett [Catholic-Hierarchy]". Retrieved 2023-10-05.
  26. ^ "Morlino's Controversial Tenure". Wisconsin State Journal. November 26, 2018. p. A9. Retrieved October 18, 2019 – via Open access icon
  27. ^ Johnson, Charles S. (12 February 2014). "Diocese of Helena bankruptcy: $33.6M in liabilities more than twice its assets". Retrieved Jun 22, 2020.
  28. ^ BROUWER, DEREK (3 March 2014). "Helena Catholic Diocese faces tough decisions as it negotiates bankruptcy". The Billings Gazette. Retrieved Jun 22, 2020.
  29. ^ DEEDY, ALEXANDER (29 April 2015). "Diocese names priests, sisters, staff accused of sexual abuse". Helena Independent Record. Retrieved Jun 22, 2020.
  30. ^ "Bishop Austin Anthony Vetter [Catholic-Hierarchy]". Retrieved 2023-10-05.
  31. ^ "Jewish community buys back first synagogue in Montana from Catholic Diocese | The Times of Israel". Retrieved 2022-08-28.
  32. ^ "Montana Jewish Project completes purchase of historic Helena synagogue". 25 August 2022. Retrieved 2022-08-28.
  33. ^ Wilensky, David A. M. (2022-08-26). "Tiny Jewish community of Montana buys back state's first synagogue". J. Retrieved 2022-08-28.
  34. ^ "Archbishop Gets a Public Education Since 1989 Elden Curtiss is Known to have Dealt with Four Cases of Sexual Misconduct Involving Priests, by Julia McCord, Omaha World-Herald, April 29, 2002". Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  35. ^ Egerton, Brooks; Dunklin, Reese (June 12, 2002). "Bishops' record in cases of accused priests". Dallas Morning News.
  36. ^ "About |". Retrieved 2021-04-14.

46°35′45″N 112°01′37.3″W / 46.59583°N 112.027028°W / 46.59583; -112.027028

{{bottomLinkPreText}} {{bottomLinkText}}
Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena
Listen to this article

This browser is not supported by Wikiwand :(
Wikiwand requires a browser with modern capabilities in order to provide you with the best reading experience.
Please download and use one of the following browsers:

This article was just edited, click to reload
This article has been deleted on Wikipedia (Why?)

Back to homepage

Please click Add in the dialog above
Please click Allow in the top-left corner,
then click Install Now in the dialog
Please click Open in the download dialog,
then click Install
Please click the "Downloads" icon in the Safari toolbar, open the first download in the list,
then click Install

Install Wikiwand

Install on Chrome Install on Firefox
Don't forget to rate us

Tell your friends about Wikiwand!

Gmail Facebook Twitter Link

Enjoying Wikiwand?

Tell your friends and spread the love:
Share on Gmail Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Buffer

Our magic isn't perfect

You can help our automatic cover photo selection by reporting an unsuitable photo.

This photo is visually disturbing This photo is not a good choice

Thank you for helping!

Your input will affect cover photo selection, along with input from other users.


Get ready for Wikiwand 2.0 🎉! the new version arrives on September 1st! Don't want to wait?