Catholics in Las Vegas know what comes to mind when you think of their city: casinos, neon lights, cocktail waitresses, the vice squad, Elvis impersonators, what-happens-in-Vegas-stays-in-Vegas.
And, of course, this weekend, the Super Bowl.
But away from the glitz of the Strip and the media glow of the Big Game on Feb. 11 between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers lies a Las Vegas you may never have heard of: a flourishing, emerging Catholic hub that’s growing so quickly the recently designated Archdiocese of Las Vegas can’t build new churches fast enough.
You think the roulette tables are crowded at The Mirage this weekend? Try getting a seat at Sunday Mass.
In the greater Las Vegas area, some parishes routinely have 200 children receiving first Holy Communion each year.
The confirmation classes at some parishes are so big, up to 500 each year, they need a second bishop on hand to keep the lines moving.
One parish — St. Anne’s in the city of Las Vegas — has more than 40,000 parishioners.
It’s not just that the archdiocese is super-sized (the official number is 750,000 people, about double what it was in 1995), it’s also a magnet for young families drawn by the vibrant Catholic spirituality and parish life.
“The perceptions of most people are so different from what’s happening here, it’s amazing,” said Leo Falkensammer, founder of a travel agency with 70 employees and a native of Austria who moved to Las Vegas in 1966.
“What the Strip is doing and what we are doing in our own neighborhoods are two completely different things,” he said.
“Our churches are full on Sunday, and we need more. What would be nice is if you could take some of the churches on the East Coast and bring them to Las Vegas….”
How is a place famously known as “Sin City” also the home of fervent, family-oriented Catholic parishes?
For Rick Gordon, 50, who has seven kids ages 11 to 25 and is president of the local chapter of Legatus, the Catholic business leaders’ organization, Las Vegas calls to mind St. Paul’s words in Romans 5:20: “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.”
Gordon and his wife found in their parish, St. Francis of Assisi in Henderson, a strong religious-education program and Catholic moms group. For a while they home-schooled, and through co-ops, they found Catholic home-schooling families serious about their faith. Their kids made friends at the parish, and so did they.
Even the broader culture “assisted in Catholic life,” Gordon said. When a friend visited, he told Gordon he was amazed at how many family-friendly activities there were in the area, including parks, hikes, youth sports and hay rides.
When Gordon’s kids eventually went to public schools, they met a lot of people they could identify with, whether they were Catholics or not.
“There are actually a lot of families that were trying to do a lot of the same things that we were trying to do, which was to raise healthy, balanced, virtuous children,” Gordon said.
Joe Micatrotto, 72, a restaurateur and founder of the Buca di Beppo chain, who moved to the valley in 2001, has lived in various parts of the country. He liked them all — but, he said: “Nothing compares to Las Vegas.”
The religious fervor surprised him.
“I never dreamt I would be in the midst of such a vibrant Catholic community. And it’s not all the same color. It’s not the same ethnicity. All they have in common is they’re raising Roman Catholics,” Micatrotto said.
“I think God smiles a lot when he looks at Las Vegas.”
From the National Catholic Register