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Winslow was founded in 1882 as a railroad town and later developed a lumbering industry. A doctor is said to have started the town when he set up his practice in a tent, and was later joined by other settlers, one of whom opened a post office in 1882. Edward Winslow, the president of the Santa Fe Railway at the time, served as the town’s namesake.

Due to its position along the railroad and, later, Route 66, Winslow served as home to several prominent historical sites, such as a Hubbell trade store and the now-preserved La Posada Harvey House. According to an excellent history of Winslow by Kathy Weiser,

“It was in the late 1800s, that a man named John Lorenzo Hubbell began building Navajo trading posts all over Arizona and New Mexico. These were just part of a trading empire that included freight and mail lines, as well as curio shops in California, bean farms near Gallup, New Mexico, and apple farms near Farmington, New Mexico. Hubbell was instrumental in bridging the gap between the white settlers and the Navajo people. In Winslow, the building still stands that once housed the Hubbell Wholesale Store, which operated from 1924 to 1948.

On May 15, 1930 the famous La Posada Harvey House Hotel opened its doors for business. The last one built in the famous Harvey Hotel and restaurant chain, Winslow was chosen for the site, as it was the headquarters for the Santa Fe Railway. During those days, Winslow was growing so fast that the railroad anticipated the town would soon become another Santa Fe, New Mexico. Designed by Mary Colter, the famed Grand Canyon architect, she paid careful detail to blending the aspects of both the Native American and Spanish cultures of the area into the hotel.

The La Posada opened just after the Stock Market crash of 1929 but still managed to hang on. When the nation recovered from the depression, the hotel catered to both railroad passengers and the many travelers of the Mother Road. At this time, dozens of other businesses sprouted up in the city, initially catering to the many Dust Bowl escapees, and later, to leisure travelers after World War II.”

The hotel eventually closed and was used as an office building by the railroad, before being preserved and re-opened as a hotel in 1994.

The building of the I-40 interstate ended up re-routing a large amount of tourism away from Winslow, dealing a blow to economic growth in the town. A foundation was formed in the 90s with the goal of restoring tourism to the downtown area, inspired by the mention of Winslow in the hit Eagles song “Take It Easy” (“Standin’ on the corner in Winslow, Arizona”, goes the line in the song). While it may not be another Santa Fe, New Mexico as originally envisioned by pre-Depression railway executives, Winslow with its nearly 10,000 citizens still stands as a fine example of classic Route 66 small town America.

Catholicism in Winslow

In 1888, Mass was being offered once monthly in a private home.

The first Mass offered in Winslow was in a home in February of 1888. At that time Mass could only be offered once a month. The Catholic parish of Saint Joseph was established in 1896, by the Bishop of Arizona, Most Rev. Peter Bourgade of Tucson, with Father Thomas M. Connolly as the first pastor.

For years Fr. Connelly lived in two small rooms in back of the church  until 1906 when a building was donated for the rectory. In 1897, Fr. Connelly was in charge of Winslow, Williams, Grand Canyon, Seligman and Kingman.

In 1923, a new church was constructed under the direction of Father Edward A. Albouy, then pastor. Mr. Bob Felton was the contractor who built the walls. The stone for the church was cut and shaped on the site and hauled with team and wagon by Charles Daze. The basement was dug by hand and also the foundation. In 1921 the solemn blessing of the corner stone took place. Officiating was Fr. Schuster, OFM, who periodically took care of the spiritual needs of the Lagunas, here. (That it is indeed a small world can be seen when later Fr. Schuster was sent to Indiana. During his pastorate he sent a number of young men to study for the priesthood in the Southwest. Among them was a young lad named James Lindenmeyer.) On April 8, 1923, the new church was completed and solemnly blessed by Archbishop Daeger of Santa Fe

St. Joseph Church records date back to 1896. The first Baptism was on December 27, 1896; first Marriage was on January, 14, 1897; first funeral on December 23, 1897; first Communion class on August 15, 1902 and the first Confirmation class on March 22, 1903.

From 1912 to 1917 Fr. Geroge Marx was pastor. The sanctuary stained glass window of the present church is dedicated to his memory. He was buried beneath the altar.

Late in l9l7 until 1918 Fr. Marciniak was pastor. Fr. Albuoy was then assigned to Winslow until 1928. Fr. Collymore then succeeded him until 1930 when Fr. Hootsmans from Holland came as pastor. His is the longest pastorate in the history of St. Joseph Church lasting until 1947. The growth of the parish at this time convinced Fr. Hootsman that one priest was not sufficient to handle the religious instructions for the children. In 1939 we were fortunate enough to secure a staff of Dominican Sisters from Adrian, Michigan to assume charge of the religious instruction of the young.

In 1940 the counties of Northern Arizona were placed under the spiritual jurisdiction of the newly formed Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico. The first Bishop was Most Reverend Bernard T. Espelage, OFM.

When in 1947 Fr. Hootsmans accepted a transfer to Williams, Arizona, the youngest man ever was named pastor to St. Joseph’s. This man was Fr. Eugene McCarthy who came shortly after his ordination. He was pastor of St. Joseph Church for eleven years.

The first priest assigned as assistant was Fr. O’Hern. Later Fr. Driscoll was assigned. In January 1949, Fr. Lindenmeyer, newly ordained, was assigned as assistant to Fr. McCarthy.

In the 1940s, Winslow was growing both geographically and in population. Because people were living farther and farther away from St. Joseph Church and had to cross a wide expanse of railroad tracks to go to church there, priests from St. Joseph began saying Mass in 1948 at Cooperstown in the Penitente Morada chapel. It was then decided to build a church on the south side of town. With generous donations, construction began on the church in 1949. On February 2, 1950 the new church was gutted by fire, but construction work began anew and in September  1950 the church was finally constructed, dedicated to Madre de Dios and later officially named as a parish in September, 1951. In 1952, an addition was built on the church to serve as a rectory. In 1958, work on a parish hall was begun and, upon completion, was dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi by Bishop Espelage in 1961. In 1962, a large shrine was built beside the church and dedicated to Our Blessed Mother.

In 1950, construction began on a school to serve the growing community. The parishioners had been saving for many years for this school, and in June of 1950, under the pastorship of Fr. McCarthy, a contract was awarded to K.H. Phillips, Co. for the construction of four classrooms and a gym. Ground was broken in July of 1950. In September of the same year, kindergarten and six grades were begun. The first classes in the new school were held on February 19, 1951. Construction of the new convent and additional classrooms, kitchen and stage were begun in 1954. St. Joseph’s Catholic School was closed in 1977 because of a shortage of Sisters for teaching.

Since the close of the Catholic school, CCD classes and organizational meetings are held at the school now known as the Parish Center.

Bishop Espelage invited the Madonna House Lay Apostolate to open a foundation in Winslow. The first staff arrived in May, 1957. Among other works, they assist in the parish catechetical program and various parish activities, and are still active in the region today.

Photos compiled from Diocesan archives, Library of Congress, and Wikimedia Commons