|Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church became the center of religious life for many Mexican American women in Tempe who were highly involved in their community. They participated in services, cleaned the church, aided the priests and nuns, while also joining the Catholic Ladies Guild and Ladies Sodality. In addition, the church became a school site where Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary taught in the basement from 1945 to1950, before moving to a nearby building.
Region: Phoenix and Central Arizona
Theme: Women in Community Building & Women in Education
|The original Our Lady of Mount Carmel chapel was located in the area now occupied by the Arizona State University football field. Mexican American residents constructed the small adobe building in 1881. As the congregation grew, the Catholic Church purchased two lots at Eighth Street and College Avenue (now University and College). Skilled Mexican American bricklayers and youngsters from the community worked to construct the church under the direction of a German priest, Fr. Severin Westhoff, who modeled the structure after his homeland's brick Romanesque Revival churches. The congregation dedicated the new church in 1903, and women became the center of the religious community, rearing their children and grandchildren within the church structure. Like many other women in Arizona and the United States, they built their families and communities through their religious connections. The Mexican American women also endured discrimination and segregation in the church, with Anglos filling one side of the pews and Mexican Americans the other.
In 1945, Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary arrived from Dubuque, Iowa, to teach school at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. They instructed classes made up primarily of Mexican Americans from Tempe, but there were also Anglo students. Many of the Mexican American youngsters transferred to this school from the Eighth Street School which had originally been a segregated "Mexican School." However, a court case in 1925 resulted in its desegregation. Some Mexican American students still felt the sting of prejudice there and were happy to attend the Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, where they were educated well and treated as equal to the Anglos. The nuns continued to teach in Mount Carmel and the nearby school building, on Sixth and College, until a new school on Rural Road opened in 1960.
In 1962, the parish sold its interest in the church to the Newman Catholic Student Center at ASU. Mexican American families continue to attend that church on the northwest corner of University and College, across from the ASU campus, while many Anglo families moved to the new church at 2121 S. Rural Road.
For additional information, consult files in the Luhr's Reading Room, ASU Library, Tempe.
Photos courtesy of Chicano/a Collection, Arizona State University Libraries