Roman Catholic Diocese of Great Falls–Billings

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Diocese of Great Falls–Billings
Dioecesis Magnocataractensis–Billingensis
CoA Roman Catholic Diocese of Great Falls-Billings.svg
Country United States
Territory Big Horn, Blaine, Carbon, Cascade, Chouteau, Custer, Dawson, Fallon, Fergus, Hill, Musselshell, Park, Rosebud, Sheridan, Stillwater, Sweet Grass, Valley, Wibaux and Yellowstone counties in Eastern Montana
Ecclesiastical province Province of Portland
- Catholics

51,629[1] (13.2%)
Denomination Roman Catholic
Rite Roman Rite
Established May 18, 1904
Cathedral St. Ann's Cathedral (Great Falls)
Co-cathedral St. Patrick's Co-Cathedral (Billings)
Patron saint St. Matthias the Apostle
St. Pius X
Current leadership
Pope Francis
Bishop Michael William Warfel
Bishop of Great Falls–Billings
Metropolitan Archbishop Alexander King Sample
Emeritus Bishops Anthony Michael Milone
Diocese of Great Falls-Billings map.PNG

The Diocese of Great Falls–Billings (Latin: Dioecesis Magnocataractensis–Billingensis) is one of two Catholic dioceses in the U.S. state of Montana in the United States. The diocese was established in 1904, and originally constituted the eastern half of the Diocese of Helena. The see was originally located only in the city of Great Falls, Montana, from which the diocese drew its original name. In 1980, the diocese's name was changed to reflect its new co-see in the city of Billings, Montana.


St. Patrick's Co-Cathedral, Billings, MT

Pope Pius X erected the "Diocese of Great Falls" on May 18, 1904, by dividing the Diocese of Helena, which previously comprised the entire state.[1][2] For its first 76 years, it was called the "Diocese of Great Falls" (Latin: Dioecesis Great-Ormensis).[1] Bishop Thomas J. Murphy changed the name of the diocese on February 14, 1980, adding "Billings" and changing the way that "Great Falls" was translated into Latin.[3] The diocese has two cathedrals: St Ann's Cathedral in Great Falls, which was dedicated on December 15, 1907, and St Patrick's Co-Cathedral in Billings, which was dedicated on March 1, 1908. The co-patrons of the diocese are Saint Matthias, whose feast day is May 14 and who was the patron saint of the first diocesan bishop, and Saint Pius X, whose feast day is August 21 and who, while pope, erected the diocese.

The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) was established in the diocese in 1930. That year, newly-consecrated Bishop Edwin O'Hara visited St. Anthony Guild Press in Paterson, New Jersey, where he met editor Miriam Marks. He was deeply impressed with Marks' organizing capabilities, and asked her to help him to establish CCD in the Diocese of Great Falls.[4] CCD had not been widely adopted in the United States, and Bishop O'Hara was particularly concerned at the lack of doctrinal education among rural Catholics. Bishop O'Hara worked hard to implement CCD throughout his diocese, and the United States. His efforts led to a reviatlization of CCD and rapid adoption of it throughout the country.[5] Bishop O'Hara extended CCD to adults as well, promoting the establishment of neighborhood groups of four to six people to study a single work for eight weeks, twice a year. By 1934, more than 400 adult CCD groups existed in the Diocese of Great Falls. The movement spread nationwide, with tens of thousands of groups.[6]

In the 1960s, Auxiliary Bishop (later Bishop) Eldon B. Schuster played a major role in world Catholic affairs. He participated in the Second Vatican Council, and submitted a written document asking the body to immediately issue a declaration on religious liberty.[7] He was close to Raymond Hunthausen, Bishop of the Diocese of Helena (later Archbishop of Seattle), with whom he shared a deep desire to improve ecumenical efforts with other Christian churches.[8]

Bishop Thomas J. Murphy also played a major role in Vatican affairs. Archbishop Hunthausen's liberal positions on a wide range of Catholic doctrinal issues led to significant criticism, even charges of heresy, from elements in his diocese. An apostolic visitor was appointed in 1983, which led to a report largely clearing Hunthausen. Nevertheless, Pro-Nuncio Cardinal Pio Laghi made public those elements of the report censuring Hunthausen. Six days later, Father Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh was named Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle. Nine months later, the Vatican announced that Hunthausen had been stripped of ecclesiastical authority over diocesan tribunals (e.g., annulments), liturgy and worship, healthcare and ministry to homosexuals, seminaries and priestly education, and supervision of former or retired priests. In May 1987, the Vatican reversed its decision to strip Hunthausen of authority, Wuerl was removed and appointed Bishop of Pittsburgh, and Bishop Thomas J. Murphy of Great Falls was named coadjutor archbishop of Seattle.[9] When Hunthausen retired four years later, Murphy succeeded him as archbishop.[10]

In 2005, the Northern Cheyenne Tribe sued the St. Labre Indian School and the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, alleging that both organizations used the tribe's poverty to raise millions of dollars—and shared almost none of it with the tribal people themselves. The lawsuit claimed breach of contract, cultural genocide, fraud, and unjust enrichment. The tribe and St. Labre School reached an out-of-court settlement in December 2014, under which the tribe agreed to drop all charges except that of unjust enrichment, and to pass public resolutions approving of the diocese's and school's use of tribal indicia (so long as compensation payments are made).[11] In turn, the school agreed to make an immediate payment to the tribe of $6 million in 2014, $1 million per year beginning in 2015 and ending in 2019,[12] and $60,000 per year beginning in 2020 for each year the school remains on tribal land.[11]

In 2012, the first of several sexual abuse lawsuits was filed against the diocese, alleging abuse of both boys and girls by men and women employed by the diocese.[13] More than 60 plaintiffs had joined the suits by April 2015.[14]


The past bishops of the diocese and their tenures of service:[15]

  1. Mathias Clement Lenihan (1904–1930), from the Diocese of Dubuque.
  2. Edwin Vincent O'Hara (1930–1939), from the Archdocese of Portland.
  3. William Joseph Condon (1939–1967), from the Diocese of Spokane.
  4. Eldon Bernard Schuster (1967–1977), from the Diocese of Great Falls (auxiliary bishop, 1961-1967).
  5. Thomas Joseph Murphy (1978–1987), from the Archdiocese of Chicago.
  6. Anthony Michael Milone (1987–2006), from the Archdiocese of Omaha.
  7. Michael William Warfel (2007–present), from the Diocese of Juneau.

Schools and hospitals[edit]

The diocese contains three Catholic high schools: Billings Central Catholic High School in Billings; Great Falls Central Catholic High School in Great Falls; and St. Labre Indian Catholic High School in Ashland. A Catholic university, the University of Great Falls (sponsored by the Sisters of Providence), is located in Great Falls.

Two Catholic acute-care hospitals also exist within the diocese: Holy Rosary Healthcare in Miles City and St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings (both sponsored by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth).


On March 31, 2017, church officials announced that the Diocese was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to cover costs from sex abuse lawsuits.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Diocese of Great Falls-Billings". David M. Cheney. Retrieved 23 January 2015. 
  2. ^ "Diocese of Montana Split into two". Retrieved 2014-04-26. 
  3. ^ "Diocese Renamed". Retrieved 2014-04-26. 
  4. ^ Keller, Rosemary Skinner; Ruether, Rosemary Radford; Cantlon, Marie (2006). Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press. p. 878. ISBN 9780253346858. 
  5. ^ Dolan, Timothy Michael (1992). Some Seed Fell on Good Ground: The Life of Edwin V. O'Hara. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press. pp. 126–155. ISBN 9780813219493. 
  6. ^ Chinnici, Joseph P. (2004). "The Catholic Community at Prayer: 1926-1976". In O'Toole, James M. Habits of Devotion: Catholic Religious Practice in Twentieth-Century America. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. pp. 48–50. ISBN 9780801442568. 
  7. ^ Yzermans, Vincent Arthur (1967). American Participation in the Second Vatican Council. New York: Sheed and Ward. p. 6. 
  8. ^ Small, Lawrence F. (1992). Religion in Montana: Pathways to the Present. Billings, Mont.: Rocky Mountain College. p. 191. ISBN 9781560441755. 
  9. ^ Deedy, John G. (1987). American Catholicism: And Now Where?. New York: Plenum Press. pp. 33–35, 264. ISBN 9780306427060. 
  10. ^ Berger, Joseph (June 27, 1997). "Thomas Murphy, Archbishop Of Seattle Since '91, Dies at 64". The New York Times. Retrieved September 19, 2016. 
  11. ^ a b Brouwer, Derek (January 18, 2015). "Ending decade of litigation, tribe and Catholic school reach settlement over exploitation suit". Billings Gazette. Retrieved September 19, 2016. 
  12. ^ Hoffman, Matt (August 13, 2015). "Northern Cheyenne protesters say council mishandled $11 million settlement with St. Labre". Billings Gazette. Retrieved September 19, 2016. 
  13. ^ Olp, Susan (March 3, 2014). "Plantiffs' attorneys expect numbers to go up in Great Falls-Billings diocese sex abuse lawsuits". Billings Gazette. Retrieved September 19, 2016. 
  14. ^ Erickson, David (April 30, 2015). "Helena Diocese names perpetrators of sexual abuse; many at western Montana parishes". The Missoulian. Retrieved September 19, 2016. 
  15. ^ "Bishops from 1883 to the Present". Retrieved 2014-04-26. 
  16. ^

External links[edit]


Coordinates: 47°30′13″N 111°17′10.67″W / 47.50361°N 111.2862972°W / 47.50361; -111.2862972