What Happens in Laughlin

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that my most unpredictable trip to date would take place in Nevada.

My visit on Oct. 10 took me to Laughlin, Nevada, the southernmost city in the Silver State. And it started out in a typical fashion, with an 8 a.m. Mass at the little church upland from the Colorado River.The next two Masses of the day were not held there, but in Don’s Celebrity Theatre at the Riverside Casino. Yup, it was Mass in a gambling den.

In the 1990s, the community had no Catholic Church, and the nearest facility in the state was 80 miles away, so the community persuaded the Diocese of Las Vegas to grant them a priest to serve its needs. With no building suitable to hold services, the casino opened its theater doors to the parish. And since at any given time there are far more people in the casinos than living in Laughlin, the parish still holds several Masses there each weekend.

But worshiping where Elvis impersonators and ventriloquists normally perform was not even the most unusual part. On Sunday, the parish was holding a dedication ceremony for its new Garces Center, a community building next to the church that is named for Father Francisco Garces.

In 1776, Father Garces became the first Catholic priest to arrive in Nevada, crossing the river to reach Laughlin. Father Garces is also sometimes credited with naming the Colorado River. The center became the first building in Nevada named in his honor, and a canonization effort is possibly under way.

Father Charlie Urnick, pastor at St. John the Baptist and strong supporter of Father Garces’s canonization, invited me to join the other speakers to address the assembled crowd about the book, which I was happy to do. But it was quite the shock when I learned that among the crowd of guests I would be addressing would be the Bishop of Las Vegas, George Leo Thomas, and Steve Sisolak, the governor of Nevada.

The governor departed immediately after my remarks, quite coincidentally I hope, but I did share a few words with the bishop, who was very supportive of my efforts.

Father Charlie at St. John the Baptist in Laughlin.

A brief conversation I had with Bishop Thomas after the dedication ceremony.

Father Charlie greets Mass goers just inside Don’s Celebrity Theatre.

Only in Nevada is a poker chip found in the collection box.

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