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History of the Diocese

A Brief History of the Diocese of the Rio Grande

The 1859 General Convention of the Episcopal Church assigned New Mexico to the jurisdiction of the Missionary District of the Northwest under Bishop Josiah Cruickshank Talbot. He ventured south in 1863 on a “dreadful trip with drunken passengers singing obscene songs.” Talbot held services at Fort Union, Santa Fe, and Taos.

The Rt. Rev. George Maxwell Randall of the Missionary District of Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming visited the territory in 1871. He baptized, preached and confirmed in Santa Fe and then traveled for 4 days in a mail coach to visit the infant church in Mesilla, but he did not stop in Albuquerque.

Three years later, the General Convention appointed William Forbes Adams as Bishop of the newly formed Missionary District of New Mexico and Arizona. After his consecration on January 17, 1875, Adams traveled to the district accompanied by his chaplain, Henry Forrester. Starting in Las Vegas, at the end of the railroad, they journeyed by mail coach to Santa Fe, and then to Albuquerque where nine people attended the first Episcopal worship service at the Exchange Hotel on the Plaza on March 4, 1875. The Hon. Hezekiah Johnson, a judge in the 2nd Judicial District, was made a deacon to lead weekly services at the hotel and studies of the “Calvary Catechism,” the 1789 Prayer Book, and the King James Bible.

Bishop Adams discovered that his bishopric required more physical stamina than he had. Citing family concerns, he left New Mexico soon after his tour of the territory and resigned as Bishop on October 15, 1875. His remains the shortest term of office of any bishop to serve New Mexico, but he left a grand legacy in the person of Henry Forrester.

Chaplain Forrester took on ecclesiastical oversight of the Missionary District and established St. Paul’s in Las Vegas to serve as the ecclesiastical center. The Rev. Mr. Forrester was a thin, bearded man, with a high forehead who seemed to have endless energy for his calling to serve the Missionary District. He traveled widely around the territory, establishing missionary outposts in 15 towns.

The General Convention of 1877 sought to replace Adams, and elected DB Knickerbocker of Minnesota, but he declined, and the episcopal responsibility for the oversight of the territories of Wyoming and New Mexico eventually fell to Bishop John Franklin Spalding, the second Missionary Bishop of Colorado. In 1880 the General Convention of the Episcopal Church elected George Kelly Dunlop to fill the vacant episcopate of Missionary Bishop of the Territories of Arizona and New Mexico.


The arrival of the telegraph in 1875 had linked the wide expanse of the West, but, more importantly, the arrival of the railroad on April 10, 1880, led to rapid growth in Albuquerque. Nearly immediately “New Town” sprang up close to the tracks.



 In 1880, the first convention of the Missionary District of New Mexico & Arizona was held at the Exchange Hotel. Bishop Dunlop appointed the Rev. Henry Forrester priest to the congregation in Albuquerque. Forrester continued to travel across the territory, encouraging the missions he had established in the District. Forrester reported to Convocation in 1882 “land has been purchased at 4th and Silver” for $5,000. The first service in the stone & brick church of St. John’s in November, led by Bishop Dunlop, was attended by 33 people.

Unlike his predecessors, Bishop Dunlop was undaunted by distance, difficulties or weather. He traveled over all of New Mexico and Arizona in carts, on horseback, and on foot in all kinds of weather, summer and winter, in the face of hostile Indians, a great financial depression and with practically no church facilities or property. Yet when he died seven years later on March 12, 1888, a beautiful stone church had been built in Santa Fe, one in Albuquerque, an adobe church and rectory in Tombstone, St. Paul's Church and Rectory in Las Vegas, and building lots had been acquired in Tucson, Raton and numerous other places. Mourned by all who knew him, Bishop Dunlop was buried in St. Paul's Church in Las Vegas, New Mexico.

 

First Five Bishops
First Five Bishops

Bishop Dunlop was succeeded by John Mills Kendrick in 1888, and was consecrated as Bishop in Trinity Church, Columbus, Ohio, on January 18, 1889. From 1878 until the time of his consecration as the third Bishop of New Mexico and Arizona, he served as diocesan general missionary. Kendrick's assignment, the district of New Mexico, Arizona and a portion of Texas, 236,313 square miles of territory, was one of the most difficult for any Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Kendrick settled first in Las Vegas, New Mexico, then moved to Albuquerque. He later moved his headquarters to El Paso, Texas. He maintained a winter residence in Phoenix and a summer home in Oceanside, California, where he died on December 16, 1911, after twenty-three years of service in the Southwest.

After the death of Bishop Kendrick, Bishop Cameron Mann was given oversight of the District of New Mexico and Texas West of the Pecos. Bishop Mann had little influence in New Mexico and Texas West of the Pecos, and in 1913 was transferred to the Missionary District of South Florida.

After Bishop Mann’s transfer, Frederick Bingham Howden was consecrated Bishop of the District on January 14, 1914. Howden served the Episcopal Church in New Mexico and West Texas during the creation of its Cathedral.

A resolution from the Vestry of St. John’s Episcopal Church to Bishop Howden and the Convocation of 1920 designated St. John’s as the Cathedral Church of the Missionary District of New Mexico & Southwest Texas. Although the resolution was accepted on a one-year trial basis, it was three years later after new canons were adopted, before the designation was official. 
In 1925, the Rev. Henry R.A. O’Malley, a bachelor, came to St. John’s. He took up residence in the deanery at the church. When O’Malley arrived St. John’s, the Cathedral of the Diocese was still a small stone building. An arched door faced 4th Street and a wooden picket fence surrounded the grounds.

Despite the deepening Depression, O’Malley oversaw fundraising of $30,000 to start the Cathedral house designed by John Gaw Meem, for parish and diocesan offices. The work cost him dearly and he resigned for health reasons before seeing his dream started. Bishop Howden laid the cornerstone of the Cathedral House on Easter Sunday, 1930.

Bishop Howden died in Albuquerque on November 12, 1940. The Rt. Rev. Frederick Bethune Bartlett, the Bishop of the Missionary District of Idaho, oversaw the New Mexico and West Texas District from early 1941 until his death in an automobile accident on December 15, 1941, near American Falls, Idaho.

James Moss Stoney was elected to succeed Howden, and was consecrated Bishop of District of New Mexico on April 16, 1942, and received his D.D. the same year. Stoney served as Missionary Bishop for ten years before the District became a Diocese in 1952. During that time in 1950, the Cathedral proceeded with plans for a brand new, John Gaw Meem designed Nave that would triple the seating. Meem was chosen so that the building would retain the design features of the Cathedral House. A fundraising goal of $200,000 was set with ground breaking scheduled for the day after Easter, 1951. The work was completed in time for the 1952 Diocesan Convention.

The first services were held in the new building on October 5, 1952, and the dedication service on November 11, 1952, included both the dedication of the new Cathedral and institution of Stoney as Diocesan Bishop.

 

Second Five Bishops
Second Five Bishops

Bishop Stoney was succeeded in 1956 with the election of C. James Kinsolving III as Bishop Coadjutor. Bishop Kinsolving was Consecrated Bishop Co-adjutor of New Mexico and Southwest Texas on October 27, 195. The following year he received his D.D., and was became the Diocesan Bishop in 1956.

By the end of his tenure in 1972, Bishop Kinsolving had been forced to deal with a number of issues arising out of the tumult of the late 1960s and early 1970s. These included questions of churchmanship and the use of alternative forms to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. The greatest controversy, however, involved the introduction of the General Convention’s Special Program that sought to distribute resources to various civil rights groups, some of which were fairly militant in tone. On the whole, however, the Diocese fared well during his administration, and demonstrated considerable growth.

Bishop Kinsolving’s successor, Richard M. Trelease, was elected in 1971, and consecrated Bishop Co-adjutor of New Mexico on December 15, 1971. He became the Diocesan Bishop on January 14, 1972. It has been said of Bishop Trelease that he was a man of his age. He was a strong supporter of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and the Hymnal 1982, as well as women’s ordination. The result was a doubling of diocesan clergy, and an unfortunate decrease in the number of confirmands and communicants.

Bishop Trelease’s ministry ended abruptly in 1988 with his resignation for health reasons, at the urging of Presiding Bishop Edmund Browning. In the interim period of the Episcopal search, the Rt. Rev. William Davidson was made overseer of the Diocese of the Rio Grande in 1988 and served one year.

The election of Terence Kelshaw represented a conscious departure from the Trelease era. A British evangelical, Kelshaw was consecrated Bishop of the Diocese of the Rio Grande in March 1989. He quickly set about reversing many of Trelease’s policies, and instituting his own. He decentralized some of the financial decision making of the Diocese into the hands of the four deaneries, and also set a conservative agenda for the Diocese. Funds were withheld from the national Church, which mirrored the bishop’s and many others’ growing alienation. When issues of sexuality came to the fore, Bishop Kelshaw was highly visible, both locally and nationally, as a strong proponent of traditional values.

Bishop Kelshaw was among the bishops who filed a Presentment against retired Bishop Walter Righter for the ordination of a man in a same-sex relationship, and a vocal opponent of the election of V. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. By the end of his administration, Kelshaw had ceased to attend meetings of the House of Bishops, which increased the alienation of the Diocese from the national Church. By his retirement in 2005 the Diocese was perceived as one of the most conservative in the Church. After his retirement, Bishop Kelshaw left the Episcopal Church USA for the Anglican Church of Uganda.

Bishop Kelshaw’s 16-year ministry was followed by the short-lived administration of Bishop Jeffrey Steenson. Steenson, who had been Bishop Kelshaw’s Canon to the Ordinary for five years, was elected by a sizeable majority over his closest contender, Martyn Minns, in October 16, 2004, and was consecrated Bishop Coadjutor in January 15, 2005. He became Diocesan Bishop on August 1 of that same year, the 1000th Bishop consecrated in The Episcopal Church.

Steenson differed from his predecessor in a number of respects. While a theological conservative, his perspective was that of an “Anglo-Papalist” rather than an evangelical. There was great hope that his “kinder and gentler” conservative style would usher in an era in which differing perspectives would be respected, while at the same time honoring the generally traditional character of the Diocese. For all of these reasons, Bishop Steenson’s decision to resign as Bishop, renounce his orders in The Episcopal Church, and seek priestly ordination in the Roman Catholic Church, was greeted with a mixture of sympathy, consternation, and anger.

Both prior to and following his departure on December 1, 2007, people struggled to deal with this unanticipated and unwelcome turn of events. For some, his action, though understandable given Steenson’s concerns about the direction of the national church, was viewed as a repudiation of their own beliefs. Others were angry that he had allowed his name to be placed in nomination for Bishop, given his own ecclesial uncertainty. Still others wondered whether the direction in which he had begun to take the Diocese would continue.

The Standing Committee assumed the Ecclesiastical Authority in January 2008, and began wrestling with the usual business of diocesan leadership, but also, the separation of four congregations, continued division of spirituality and polity, and the launching of a diocesan-wide effort of healing and reconciliation.

 

Third Five Bishops
Third Five Bishops

The Right Reverend William Frey was selected to serve as Assisting Bishop in 2008. His pastoral approach to parish visitations and liturgical duties has been warmly welcomed. 
Though the separations of three parishes and one mission, as well as several clergy, resulted in a diocese of more moderate polity, sharp and deep division remained. At the same time, the Diocese remained firmly committed to remaining in the Episcopal Church USA.

The Standing Committee began the process to call Steenson’s successor with the selection and charge of the Search and Transition Committees in June 2008. The Search Committee drafted the diocesan profile and received nominations over the next eighteen months. Nominees were presented by the Standing Committee, based on the Search Committee’s recommended slate of five nominees, in January 2010, and a sixth candidate was added in April through the petition process.

The Transition Committee introduced the six nominees to the Diocese in an eight-day Walk About bus tour. The six nominees rode a 55-passenger bus for 1,751 miles, and visited eighteen congregations and mission stops, and participated in five question-and-answer events.

The Walk Abouts concluded on April 15, 2010, and the Electing Convention was called to order on April 24 in the nave of the Cathedral of St. John. The Rev. Dr. Michael Louis Vono, Rector of St. Paul’s Within-the-walls, Rome, Italy, was elected on the third ballot.

He was consecrated Bishop of the Diocese of the Rio Grande on Friday October 22 in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Albuquerque by the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, USA, and five Co-consecrating Bishops. More than 1,300 persons attended the ceremonies. Bishop Vono was Enthroned at the Cathedral at the 11 a.m. Eucharist on Sunday, October 24.

Bishops William Frey and Michael Vono

Bishop to Bishop
Bishop William Frey presents the Crosier of the Episcopal office to Bishop Michael Vono at the Consecration on October 22, 2010. Frey served as Assisting Bishop to the Diocese of the Rio Grande during the interim between the resignation of Bishop Jeffrey Steenson and the election and consecration of Bishop Vono. (Photo by Brian Winter)
 

* The following persons contributed to the content of this history: Dr. Evan Davies, Mrs. Cynthia Davis, Rev. Dr. Michael Perko, and Rev. Raymond Raney. Photographs are courtesy of The Institute of Historical Survey Foundation (IHSF.org).