The town of Las Vegas was founded by the San Pedro, Los Angeles, and the Salt Lake Railroad company in 1905. Life in the early years was difficult. The homes were simple. Many people lived in tents. The hours were long, the work was hard, money was scarce and the Summer heat unforgiving. Practical matters like water, sewage, and electricity had to be worked out. In 1908 Las Vegas could claim about 700 residents, with about 70 of them being Catholic. Among those 70 were some very dedicated and devout people. From 1905 through 1908 a priest would travel to Las Vegas by train from Salt Lake City on a regular basis to offer Mass in a local hall and care for the spiritual needs of this small Catholic flock as best he could.
By 1908 the Catholic people requested that a parish be established in Las Vegas. Bishop Lawrence Scanlan granted the request and named the parish in honor of St. Joan of Arc. It was an interesting choice as Joan of Arc had not yet been canonized (this took place in 1920). Bishop Scanlan as a young Irish priest came to Eastern Nevada as a missionary and worked in Eastern Nevada and Utah all his life. He was very familiar with the unbearable Summer heat of the Las Vegas valley and the thought of St. Joan of Arc being burnt at the stake may have influenced his decision.
Bishop Scanlan named Father Edward V. Reynolds, a fellow Irish missionary, as the first pastor of St. Joan of Arc Parish. Father Reynolds was a man of great energy, determination and had a true mission spirit to work with his small, devout congregation and build this new parish. Father Reynolds was successful in raising money from Ireland and from friends in the Eastern States. He purchased land in 1909 on South Second Street, (the same land the present church and rectory now stand on–though the name of the street was changed to Casino Center Blvd. some years ago). During this year and until the first church was opened in 1910, Father Reynolds continued to offer Mass in private homes and various halls. By 1910 Las Vegas could claim 900 residents of whom maybe 100 were Catholic. A small church, known as the “cottage chapel”, was built. It was plain, humble, and could seat only about 40 people but it was a beginning. Father Reynolds with great love and prayerfulness labored for seven years as the founding pastor of St. Joan of Arc. A room was built onto the back of the church for Father to live in as was the custom in most small mission parishes of that time.
In 1915, Father James J. O’Grady was named the second pastor of our parish and served until 1921. During these years the town grew to more than 2,000 people and parish membership passed the 200 mark. Father O’Grady is said to have enlarged the church and built a small rectory next to it during this time.We have been unable to find pictures to prove or disprove this theory. The Irish connection continued from 1921 to 1929 with priests named Sheehy, Lilley, Edwards, and Reardon.
In 1929, Father James J. O’Grady began his second term as pastor and the population of Las Vegas was now over 5,000 and growing rapidly. There is clear evidence that in the early 1930’s, Father O’Grady supervised a major rebuilding and remodeling of St. Joan of Arc Church and the building of a more suitable rectory. The church now could seat about 100. It is important to know that the original church was located where the present rectory is now and that the original rectory was located where the garden is now. The lots where the present church is located were left empty in these early years.
The Boulder Canyon Project Act passed Congress and was signed into law by President Calvin Coolidge on December 21, 1928. With the approval of six of the seven basin states the Act was declared effective on June 25, 1929. The Bureau of Reclamation moved swiftly to raise funds, sign contracts, and begin work on the gigantic project. Work began in the Spring of 1931. Thousands of good paying jobs were available, the United States was suffering the full effects of the Great Depression, and thousands of men were traveling to Southern Nevada in search of these jobs.