From the creation of the Diocese of Salt Lake in 1891 until 1931, when the eastern Nevada parishes were taken away to form the Diocese of Reno, our diocese was geographically the largest in the country. Although there were plenty of wide-open spaces where no Catholics were living, the far-flung mining communities of Nevada and Utah did have Catholics who needed to be ministered to, and that fact placed an immense burden on our pioneer priests. And that burden was made even more burdensome by the primitive roads and means of transportation. Bishop Niederauer was well aware of that when he quipped on one occasion that whereas he and Bishop Scanlan had to cover the same territory, "I have a Ford Taurus and he had a horse and buggy."
Sometime between 1918 and 1923, Msgr. Alfredo Giovannoni, the colorful pastor of Notre Dame de Lourdes parish in Price, wrote down the story of a sick call he had made somewhere near LaSal, which is nine miles east of modern Highway 191 between Moab and Monticello, and a total of some 139 miles from Price. Roads in that area, to the degree that they existed at all, were wagon tracks through the dirt and infamously treacherous to automobiles.
He got the call just before ten o'clock in the morning as he returned to the rectory from another sick call to one of the Carbon County mining camps. By five o'clock in the afternoon, on a journey we can make today in a little over two hours, he was still seven miles from his destination. At that point his engine began to knock, and he discovered that an oil line had broken and he was stranded. Even today, those southern Utah roads can be pretty lonely places, but before long an old man in a wagon came along. He attempted unsuccessfully to pull the priest and his vehicle, then advised that the two abandon the car and proceed to LaSal in the wagon. Three hours later the wagon pulled up in front of the home of the woman who had made the call. Informed that the sick man was a little better and would survive at least until the following morning, Msgr. Giovannoni accepted her hospitality and found a hot meal and a comfortable bed prepared for him.
The following morning, while the woman's sons effected some temporary repairs on his car, Giovannoni found the sick man, who turned out to be a prospector only twenty-five years of age named Pat Meehan. After receiving the sacraments, Meehan reached under his pillow and handed the priest a dollar bill. After thanking him, Giovannoni reached into his pocket and handed the prospector every bit of money he had, included the dollar bill. It totalled $4.93! "I never in my life saw anyone crying for happiness as he did that morning," Giovannoni remembered, "and I cried with him."
After limping into Moab later in the day, Giovannoni found a garage which, after four hours, fixed the engine (since by now he had no money, the mechanic agreed to bill him). He spent the night there and set out for Price at 4:00 a.m. Somewhere between Green River and Sunnyside, a huge thunderstorm turned the road into a swamp, the car became stuck again, and Giovannoni spent the night in it. Finally, the next morning, someone came along who could pull him out, and the exhausted priest reached home at last, where he ate a meal, then went to bed and slept for the next eleven hours, dreaming "of the happiness that the sacraments of our holy religion had given to Pat Meehan of the sagebrush."
"If someone in the big and comfortable cities would try one of these wonderful trips," Giovannoni suggested, "how much more would he appreciate the things he has and love to help the poor missionary of the wild West." Wild indeed, we could add; Bishop Niederauer's Ford Taurus is sounding better by the minute.