By Peter Bradley
The possibility of separating San Bernardino and Riverside counties from the Diocese of San Diego was regular conversation within the Catholic community during the 1960’s and 1970’s.
The growth in the two counties became evident after World War II. By 1970, there were 80 parishes and 33 schools in the northern section of the San Diego Diocese. The San Diego leaders decided to create regional offices for San Bernardino and Riverside counties in order to provide increased and closer services.
Finally, on July 18, 1978, Rome announced the formation of the new Diocese of San Bernardino. Its first bishop would be Rev. Phillip F. Straling, a priest of the Diocese of San Diego. The cathedral for the new Diocese would be Holy Rosary Parish in San Bernardino. The connection between Fr. Straling and Holy Rosary Parish was very special. He was baptized in that church in 1933 and would later become the pastor of the parish in 1976.
Fr. Straling had been informed by Bishop Leo Maher of the decision by Rome in early July. Not knowing the date of the formal announcement, Fr. Straling continued with his plans for a vacation in Africa beginning on July 9. He had a special interest in the poor of the Third World and was planning to visit missions in Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia. In an unusual development, the new Bishop-designate was out of the country when the formal announcement was made on July 18.
The new Diocese of San Bernardino would be composed of Riverside and San Bernardino counties. The counties of San Diego and Imperial would remain with the Diocese of San Diego. The Diocese of San Diego had 354,453 Catholics, with 87 parishes and 191 diocesan priests. The new Diocese of San Bernardino began with 235,665 Catholics, 85 parishes and 128 diocesan priests. Even after the separation, both dioceses were still considered to be medium-sized church communities.
Between the July 18 announcement of the new Diocese and the ordination of Bishop Straling on November 6, there would be surprising events in the Universal Church. Shortly after creating the Diocese of San Bernardino, Pope Paul VI would die of a heart attack on August 6, 1978. Then, Pope John Paul I would succumb to a heart attack 33 days into his papacy on September 28, 1978.
After four months of anticipation, the new Diocese of San Bernardino became a reality on November 6, 1978. Bishop Phillip F. Straling was ordained by Cardinal Timothy Manning from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The Episcopal Ordination was held at the Raincross Square Convention Center in Riverside with 2,700 people attending, including 20 Bishops and over 200 priests and deacons. Bishop Straling chose for his coat of arms: “Gaudium in Christo,” which means “Joy in Christ.” The Diocese of San Bernardino became the 11th Diocese in the state of California.
Peter Bradley is Archivist in the Diocese of San Bernardino.