It was under rather unusual circumstances that the first Catholic High Mass for Catholics for the mining town of Solver Reef was celebrated in a Mormon Tabernacle in St. George.
How did this happen?
Relations were cautious between and Island of Gentiles at Silver Reef and a sea of Mormons in Leeds, Toquerville, Washington and St. George.
One well-known exception was friendship that developed between John Macfarlane of St. George and Reverend Lawrence Scanlan, the Catholic Priest in Silver Reef, according to historian Morris Shirt’s book, "Silver, Sinners and Saints."
MacFarlane was a surveyor who was often employed in Silver Reef. He lived in the same boarding house as the Catholic Priest. The two spent many hours discussing music, religion and became respectful of each other. During one conversation, they discovered they had a mutual problem.
Father Scanlan wanted to celebrate High Mass with a choir for his congregation. His church, St. John’s, was unfinished and he had no choir. Macfarlane suggested the Mass be held in the new St. George LDS Tabernacle where Macfarlane was the choir director of a thirty-voice choir.
Scanlan was hesitant, but Macfarlane explored the idea and won over Mormon officials Erastus Snow and John McAllister.
Arrangements were agreed upon. The choir took two weeks to learn the Mass in Latin from music provided by the priest. On May 25
(A CATHOLIC SOURCE SAYS MAY 18, 1879), Father Scanlan and his congregation traveled the 20 miles to St. George. A larger, curious and respectful group of Mormons gathered in the Tabernacle-three thousand in all. Father Scanlan reportedly said “I think you are wrong and you think I am wrong, but this should not prevent us from treating each other with due consideration and respect.” This was probably the only time a high Catholic Mass has ever been celebrated in a Mormon Tabernacle with a mixed crowd of Catholics and Mormons and with music and lyrics provided by a Mormon Choir.
Father Scanlan went on to a distinguished career in the Catholic Church in Utah, dying in 1915. Macfarlane also became an attorney, composer and judge.
On May 15, 2004, to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Bishop Scanlan’s celebration of the Latin Mass in the St. George LDS Tabernacle in May of 1879, residents and visitors gathered in Cox Auditorium to reflect on the event, according to the book, “Faith Flourishes in the Desert: A History of St. George Catholic Church” by Lorraine M. Boyce, published in 2008, The St. George Heritage Choir, along with members of the St. George Catholic Church Choir, sang the Latin Mass.
Honor guards from the Knights of Columbus and the Boy Scouts also attended the ceremony. Dignitaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints recalled the story of the friendship between Bishop Scanlan and Mr. Macfarlane, the choir director the Mormon Choir, while they lived in Silver Reef, Utah.
Monsignor J. Terrence Fitzgerald, Vicar General of The Diocese of Salt Lake City and Deacon John Gorman, St. George Catholic Church, spoke at this inter-faith gathering to praise the cooperation between the two churches to unite for one purpose: To Honor God.