MORMONISM IS the religion most often associated with Utah. However, there has been a Catholic presence in the state since shortly after Mormon leader Brigham Young's pioneer company arrived in the Great Salt Lake Basin in 1847. Today, the Diocese of Salt Lake City covers all of Utah. From 1853 until 1868, the Utah Territory was part of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. In 1868, it was annexed to Colorado as a Vicariate Apostolic for two years until being returned to the San Francisco archdiocese at the behest of the Colorado bishops.

The Diocese of Salt Lake City was established in 1891 and today includes 78,475 Catholics, according to 1996 diocese statistics. That's just 4 percent of the total population of 1,964,000. Bishop George Niederauer heads the diocese of 43 parishes and 19 missions which are served by 91 priests. The diocese includes two Catholic high schools and nine Catholic elementary schools.

Catholic leaders see the minority status of Catholics in Utah as a mixed blessing. Despite the obvious hardships, there is at least one benefit. “Whenever, Catholicism finds itself in a minority situation, a certain energy in the practice of the faith tends to become operative,” said Msgr. M. Frank Mannion, rector of the Cathedral of the Madeleine and diocesan ecumenical officer and theological advisor. “This is certainly the case with Catholics in Utah. People here are probably more self-conscious, in a good sense, about their faith than might be the case in highly Catholic populations.”

—Liz Swain