In 1581, when the first Franciscan missionaries traveled the Camino Real through the Las Cruces Diocese, on their way to northern New Mexico, the country around them was only sparsely inhabited by semi-nomadic Indians of fragmented tribes. From 1659, the mission church of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe at Paso del North (the Juarez of today) was the point through which most of the missionary efforts and colonizing expeditions passed. In 1620, the Bishopric of Guadalajara was divided, and the northern region including Nueva Wizcaya became the Bishopric of Guadiana, at a later date to be call Durango. Until 1730 little ecclesiastical notice was taken of this far-away region of the bishopric - it was a vast, uncharted area. Bishop Benito Crespo of the See of Durango made the first official visita in 1730; there followed other visitas in 1760, 1817, 1833, 1845 and 1850.
The Sacraments of Baptism, Marriage and Burial were administered from Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe at El Paso to the early settlers of Doña Ana, Mesilla and Las Cruces by visitadores, circuit-riding priests from the mission. In 1850, with the designation of a new Bishopric of Santa Fe, a dialogue jurisdiction arose between Jean Lamy, Bishop of the new Diocese of Santa Fe, and the Bishop of Durango. On the settlement of this dispute, all of New Mexico came under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Sante Fe.
By 1852 there were churches at Doña Ana, Mesilla and Las Cruces. But at Mesilla only was there a resident priest, and until 1859, he visited the other two churches to administer Sacraments, Nuestra Senora de Candelaria de Doña Ana and Santa Genoveva de Las Cruces being considered visitas of San Albino's in Mesilla. By the '50's and '60's, there were churches also at Santa Barbara and Tularosa. And by the '80's, San Vicente's at San Vicente, now Silver City.
When the Diocese of Tucson was established in 1897, southern New Mexico was included in the Tucson jurisdiction. Bishop Henry Granjon wrote in his personal journal on a pastoral visit to New Mexico in 1902 of his visit to Deming, Rincon, Las Cruces, Mesilla, San Miguel, La Mesa, Chamberino, Anthony, Tularosa and Alamogordo. At that time there was still no church or chapel in Deming, Rincon, Anthony or Alamogordo. In 1914, on the formation of the Diocese of El Paso. the New Mexico counties of Doña Ana, Eddy, Grant, Hidalgo, Lea, Luna, Otero and a portion of Sierra County came under the jurisdiction of El Paso. The establishment of the Diocese of Las Cruces in 1982 added Lincoln and Chavez counties and all of Sierra County to those New Mexican counties which had previously been served by the El Paso Diocese.
The Diocese of Las Cruces has an important and rich heritage on which to build. From its early Indian inhabitants through the period of Spanish exploration and Mexican colonization to the present, the diocese has developed a special identity.
—by Paul and Mary Taylor