Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Sign In

Print this page

​​​The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, formally established as an archdiocese in 1936, is the culmination of the evolution of the Roman Catholic presence in the Californias. The archdiocese dates from the Spanish missionaries who arrived in the late 1600s and the 1700s to explore the region and under the leadership of Fray Junípero Serra, then established the early missions.

Later, settlers were encouraged to come north from Mexico and on September 14, 1781, at what is now Alameda Street in downtown Los Angeles, El Pueblo del Rio de Porciuncula (or popularly Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles), was formally established. Even then, it foretold the diversity that would characterize Los Angeles, since only 2 of the initial 44 settlers were Caucasian, with the balance coming from Indian, black, Latino, and multicultural backgrounds. The Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles was included in the parochial area of the San Gabriel Mission. Just as Los Angeles evolved to be a city in 1835 and to grow to a large, diverse metropolis, the early Church evolved to respond to increased populations and the formalization of California as a state.

The origins of the archdiocese within the Church actually can be traced to 1681. Spiritual jurisdiction over Baja Peninsular California, now Baja in Mexico, and the area then called Alta California, was in dispute. The bishops of Guadalajara and Durango in Mexico each claimed authority. Eventually jurisdiction was assigned to the bishop of Guadalajara.

The feasibility of advancing the internal provinces of northwestern New Spain to diocesan status was formally suggested as early as 1760. On May 7, 1779, acting upon a recommendation from Spanish officials in Madrid, Pope Pius VI created the Diocese of Sonora, comprising the provinces of Sonora, Sinaloa, and both Californias. For the first time, Alta California was included in a papal designation. The area was so vast, however, that communications were infrequent and in reality, the church in Alta California relied on the missionaries as the principal reference and structure.

Various plans and proposals followed until 1840, when the Diocese of Both Californias, which covered the Baja Peninsular California and Alta California, was established by the Holy See. It stretched from the Colorado River on the east, latitude 42° north (located at the Oregon line), from the west along the Pacific Ocean, and on the south through all of Baja California. In 1848 Alta California was ceded to the United States after the Mexican-American War and the diocesan name was changed to the Diocese of Monterey in 1849. The subsequent transfer of sovereignty, establishment of California as a territory, and admission to statehood in 1850, as well as objections from the Mexican civil authorities to an American bishop having jurisdiction over the Baja Peninsular California, made a further delineation of boundaries imperative.

On April 17, 1853, Bishop Joseph Alemany received word that the ​​​​Baja Peninsular California had been removed from the Diocese of Monterey. On July 29, 1853, Pope Pius IX created a Metropolitan District based at San Francisco. The southern parallel of the parish at San Jose was fixed as the demarcation between the new Archdiocese of San Francisco and the larger but suffragan Diocese of Monterey, which encompassed all of the rest of Southern California. In 1859 the episcopal seat was moved to Los Angeles and the diocese was renamed the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles.

While the history of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles indicates that there were almost immediate discussions within California and with the Holy See about further divisions, the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles remained intact until 1922. That year, Bishop John Cantwell, as the newly designated ordinary, asked that the 90,000-square-mile Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles be reconfigured, with 12 counties north of Santa Barbara County to remain with Monterey and the southern counties to form a separate jurisdiction as the Diocese of Los Angeles-San Diego. Pope Pius XI acquiesced and in June 1922, the new Diocese of Monterey-Fresno was formed. The larger area, known as the Diocese of Los Angeles-San Diego, covered the southern counties to the Mexican border.

In July 1936, a second Metropolitan District in California, which was based at Los Angeles, was established and simultaneously the four southernmost counties became the Diocese of San Diego. Included in the newly formed Province of Los Angeles were the suffragan Sees of Monterey-Fresno, San Diego, and Tucson. Included in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles were the counties of Orange, Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara. In January 1948, to avoid confusion with the older Archdiocese of Puebla, Mexico, the southland's jurisdiction was designated officially as the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in California and Bishop Cantwell became the first archbishop.

This configuration of the archdiocese and Southern California continued until 1976, when Orange County was separated from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to become the Diocese of Orange. And in 1978, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties were separated from the Diocese of San Diego to form the Diocese of San Bernardino. During the same period and thereafter, some of the Northern California dioceses and Arizona dioceses were also reorganized and reassigned.

As a result, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles now includes Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Ventura Counties, and the Archbishop of Los Angeles serves as the metropolitan for the archdiocese and the Dioceses of Fresno, Monterey, Orange, San Bernardino, and San Diego. Also, since 1983, the archdiocese has been the largest and most populous ecclesial district in the United States and continues to increase its size relative to the other dioceses and archdioceses in the United States.

In 2002 the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels was formally dedicated. Located in the Civic Center area, the new cathedral is situated to serve the growing needs of the cultural and geographical diversity in the greater Los Angeles area.

Note: This Historical Overview has been prepared from the writings and with the assistance of Msgr. Francis Weber, Archivist Emeritus of the Archdiocese, and Kevin Feeney, current Archivist​.


Topics


Section Resources