Nuestra Historia - The Jesuit College — Part II

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Instruction at the Jesuit College was offered concurrently in both Spanish and English, perhaps making the school one of the first in the country to establish a bilingual curriculum.  

The following were just a few of the young men of Las Vegas  educated by the Jesuits on South Gonzales Street:   Secundino Romero, the last titan  of the Romero dynasty, who would be speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives, U.S. marshal and twice candidate for governor; Cecilio Rosenwald, who continued the business interests of his father Emmanuel, one of the first German Jews to arrive in Las Vegas in the 1860s; Antonio Lucero, who became a prominent journalist and was elected New Mexico’s first secretary of state; and Ezequiel C de Baca, New Mexico’s second governor after statehood. (It has long been rumored that Francisco Madero, who became president of Mexico in 1911, attended the Jesuit boys’ school or college in Las Vegas. The writer has never been able to verify this story, although Madero did travel to California as a young man, and attended school there.)

After thriving here for almost 15 years, the Jesuit college closed in 1888, and the Jesuits left to Colorado. We conclude their story with the reasons for their departure.

During their time here, the Jesuits attracted a great following, quite apart from their educational instruction. The Las Vegas community sought spiritual guidance from the Jesuits, attended mass at their chapel, and received the sacraments from the Society of Jesus. Not to mention the financial contributions made to the Jesuits, and diverted from the local parish.

This did not sit well with Fr. Joseph Maria Coudert, pastor of  Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church.

Coudert protested vigorously, and substantial conflict arose between him and the Jesuits, and their respective supplicants. Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Salpointe, who had succeeded Archbishop Lamy in 1885, sided with Fr. Coudert, his fellow Frenchman, and the rift became intolerable for the Italian Jesuits, who departed in the summer of 1888. (The Jesuit college building was later used by the Christian Brothers, and in 1947 was acquired by the West Las Vegas School District, where the writer later attended junior high school. The building was destroyed by fire in 1968.)

As a result of the Jesuits’ departure, Las Vegas lost what became a leading university in the Rocky Mountain region.  The Jesuits who left here in 1888 moved to Denver, Colo., where they and others founded Regis College. Today Regis University is a respected and celebrated institution of higher learning, which Pope John Paul II chose to visit in 1993, when he met at the Regis campus with President Bill Clinton. (Some scholars maintain that Regis College was actually founded in Las Vegas in 1877, when the Jesuits opened the college here, and simply moved to Denver in 1888, and there given the name Regis, in honor of St. John Francis Regis, a 17th century Jesuit of southern France.)

Some have argued  that this early Las Vegas schism, while sectarian, introduced and set the pattern for the perennial disharmony and division in our community,  which has often delimited the course of Las Vegas history, old and contemporary.   

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In a previous column we recounted the arrival in Las Vegas of the Sisters of Loretto in 1869, and the school they established in El Distrito de las Escuelas. Several readers have asked why I made no mention of the Immaculate Conception school in new town, which was also served by the Sisters of Loretto.

The reason is that our column, while not rigidly chronological, is presently recounting nuestra historia before new town Las Vegas was created in 1879, with the arrival of the railroad. The I.C. school, as it has always been familiarly known, was not established by the Sisters of Loretto in East Las Vegas until 1912, at the site of the existing Immaculate Conception Church. (The first Immaculate Conception Church, erected in 1886, was located  at the triangular intersection of Grand Avenue and Fifth Street, northeast of El Fidel Hotel, and was replaced by the existing church in 1949.)      

The existing I.C. school building at the southeast corner of National Avenue and Sixth Street, was erected in 1922, and for more than half a century the Sisters of Loretto taught in that building. Many Las Vegans were proudly educated at I.C., and  the I.C. Colts were a powerhouse in area basketball competition, in later years under famed coach Nick DiDomenico.   In later columns recounting the emergence and development of new town Las Vegas, this history will be related with more particularity.

Jesus L. Lopez is a native of Las Vegas and a local historian.  He may be reached at 425-3730.

Editor’s note:  Some of the photographs appearing with this column are the courtesy of Joseph A. Lordi, and are from his recently published pictorial of Las Vegas.