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Nuestra Historia - Immaculate Conception church and school

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After the railroad arrived in 1879 and east Las Vegas began to grow, its Catholic population decided to establish a church on the eastside,  apart from Our Lady of Sorrows.  

They enlisted  the support of the Italian  priests who had earlier founded the Jesuit College in Old Town, and by the early 1880s, the Rev. Blasé Antonio Schifinni of the Jesuit College began holding religious services in a building on Railroad Avenue. (The history of the Jesuit College appears in  Nuestra Historia, June  2011.)

Within five years, under the leadership of Fr. Schifinni, the eastside congregation began construction of  a stone church at the triangle between Grand Avenue and Fifth Street,   where a convenience store is located today. Don Francisco Manzanares, a prominent merchant (Browne & Manzanares), donated the land, and $10,000 was raised to build the small church. Built in Gothic Revival style, the cornerstone was laid in 1886.

The new edifice was named  the Immaculate Conception Church, which continued under the auspices of the Italian Jesuits until they left to Denver in 1888, where they established Regis College. The  Archdiocese soon took over the church, and formally designated the Immaculate Conception parish east of the Gallinas River.

In 1890, the Rev. Manuel Rivera was assigned as the first parish priest at I.C. From an early San Miguel del Bado family, Rivera served two years,  followed by pastors O’Keefe, Pouget and Molinie. (Rivera was apparently the  first New Mexican ordained after the founding of the American Archdiocese of Santa Fe in 1850.)  

In 1908, Fr. Adrien Rabeyrolle was assigned to I.C.,  where he continued as pastor for more than 40 consecutive years, until his death in 1950.  The beloved Rabeyrolle was born in France and came to the United States in 1893. He had previously served as assistant pastor at  O.L.O.S.     

Soon after Fr. Rabeyrolle’s arrival, the Sisters of Loretto, who had been in Old Town  since 1869,  decided to open a similar academy  in East Las Vegas. In Sept. 1912, they opened their school in a large frame house at the present site of the I. C. Church, at the northwest corner of Sixth and National. (For a history of the Sisters’ arrival in Las Vegas and the founding of the Sisters Academy on South Gonzales Street, see Nuestra Historia, June 3, 2011.)

The new school started with two teachers and 42 pupils, and when the first high school class of four students graduated in 1919, the Sisters named the school Immaculate Conception.

The I. C. School flourished, and soon the parish began making plans and raising funds for a new school building. In  1921, a contract was awarded to O. M. Sperry for a brick building to be located diagonally opposite the school’s frame house building.  At a cost of  $90,000, the existing I.C. School was finished in 1922, complete with a basement gymnasium, classrooms on the first and second floors, an auditorium, and living quarters for the Sisters on the third floor.

By 1949, Fr. Rabeyrolle began final preparations for  construction of a new church, to be located at the site of the first I.C. School. The contract was awarded to Luther Ramsey of Las Vegas, and groundbreaking ceremonies were held  June 25, 1949. (Ramsey’s construction business was the predecessor firm of Franken Construction Company, and  Ramsey was the maternal grandfather of the Franken siblings who continue to run the company, and other business enterprises in Las Vegas.)   

The new I.C. church was dedicated in 1951, shortly after the death of Fr. Rabeyrolle,  who was succeeded by Monsignor George V. Rieffer, who was pastor until 1966. An imposing cleric, Rieffer was influential in the church hierarchy and was vicar general of the Archdiocese.

(For many years both Las Vegas parishes concurrently boasted a monsignor, with Msgr. Hubert Lomme at O.L.O.S.)

As for the I.C. School, it served the community for 51 years, closing its doors in 1963.  During that half century, countless Las Vegans received their education with the Sisters of Loretto, and there are no more proud alumni than I C. graduates.

The school’s basketball team, the  I.C. Colts — sporting the blue and white — often bested many area teams, for many years under famed coach Nick DiDomenico.  
Since 1966, a half dozen  pastors have served at the Immaculate Conception parish, including Msgr. Sipio Salas, and the Revs. Clarence Galli, Albert Podvin, Luis Jaramillo, Vincent P. Chavez and current pastor, the Rev. George V. Salazar, who has served a combined total of 21 years, and whose tenure is exceeded only by the legendary Fr. Rabeyrolle.
   
Jesus L. Lopez is a Las Vegas native and a local historian.  He may be reached at 425-3730.