Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Roman Catholic Priests Offer the First Christmas Services in the Boise Basin

On December 25, 1863, the only public Christmas services held in the Boise Basin were those offered by the Roman Catholics. Recall that, back in September, Catholic Fathers Toussaint Mesplie and A. Z. Poulin had been busy building churches in four different Basin towns. On Christmas, Father Mesplie celebrated Mass at the little church in Placerville, hurried to Pioneerville for another, and then continued to Centerville to hold a third.

Meanwhile, Father Poulin performed a series of Christmas services at the larger church, St. Joseph’s, in Idaho City. The Illustrated History of the State of Idaho later said, “As the Catholic churches were at that time the only ones in the Boise basin we need not be surprised to read in the newspaper accounts of that first Christmas in Idaho, that they were filled to overflowing.”

With buildings erected almost entirely from pine boards, these early mining towns were extremely susceptible to fire. Less than two years after that first Christmas, a major fire burned most of the structures in town. Strenuous efforts by the locals barely saved St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic church.
St. Joseph's Altar. Library of Congress

But the church was not spared two years later, when another blaze swept through town, urged on by strong winds. Most of the church fixtures also went up in smoke, but they were able to save some.

Still, within a couple months, the Idaho World (formerly the Boise News) reported, “Prominent among the frame edifices in Idaho City is the new Catholic chapel, upon the site of the church destroyed by the May fire, on East Hill. It is not quite completed, but it already presents the finest appearance of any building in the city, and is a credit to the place, to its architects and builders altogether.”

Some months later, celebrants could again enjoy Christmas services at a new St. Joseph’s, with at least a few vestments and altar pieces to provide a link to that first church. St. Joseph’s is still in use today.

References: [French], [Illust-State]

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