St. Joseph Catholic Church
From the beginning of the arrival of five diocesan priests from Denver in 1887, the pages of St. Joseph's history are scarred with financial, religious and racial prejudice, unfortunate hallmarks of the original parish.
Records from Holy Name of Mary in Del Norte, of which Monte Vista was a mission for forty years, indicate the Jesuit Fathers were entrusted with the Monte Vista area. According to the records, the first church was built in 1890. The upstairs served as a church and the ground floor was to be used as a school, a project that was never realized. The debt on the building was burdensome, and money was continually being borrowed from other sources to cover expenses. With much effort and a bit of luck, the church was debt free by 1898.
Money was the least of St. Joseph's problems: Wrote the Jesuit priests, "The races don't and won't pray together. If the whites are first for mass, the Mexicans leave. If the Mexicans are first, the whites leave. The Holy Sacrifice is like Babylon...but then so is the whole town. Catholics are not appreciated." The solution offered was to build another church in Lariat. And while the project was undertaken, only the exterior walls were ever completed.
For the first thirty or forty years of the parish, Sacramental life was very limited. Mass was offered once a month, and most people traveled a full day to Del Norte for baptisms and marriages. In spite of difficulty, the Catholic community continued to flourish. Reports indicate ninety souls were active parishioners in 1920. But then in 1921, fire sparked in the roof of the parish, and it slowly burnt to ground.
The tragic fire proved to be a blessing in disguise. In the spring of 1922, parishioners worked day and night to build a new church from brick left behind in the fire, and from stone scavenged from the Lariat church.
Since the early 1930s, there had been a desire for Catholic education in the parish, and in 1949, under the direction of Fr. James McDevitt, school doors were opened. The school was a transformed army barracks building purchased from the Pueblo Army Air Base. It was dissembled and transported precariously over La Veta pass, piece by piece, and then re-erected by parishioners.
The Sisters of St. Joseph, from Wichita, followed by the Benedictine Sisters of Atchison, staffed the school, which grew and expanded to accommodate over 245 children. St. Joseph School was an integral part of Monte Vista for almost thirty years. But like many other Catholic schools, declining enrollment and interest in private education forced it to close its doors.
Following the closing of the school, renovation on the building resulted in the current church. In 1997, St. Joseph entered into the cluster model with Holy Name of Mary, Del Norte, (and missions), and St. Frances Jerome, Center, and its mission of Saguache.