Saint James the Greater in Vernal is today a thriving parish with perhaps three hundred families. It was not always so. There are some fascinating documents in the Diocesan Archives that illustrate some of the daunting obstacles faced by the diocese in trying to establish a parish there in the early 1920s. It is not perhaps stretching the evidence to imagine that similar obstacles had to be overcome in bringing permanent pastoral care to Catholics in other remote regions.
The great missionary to Vernal was Father Duane G. Hunt. The fact that Father Hunt later (1937) became our Bishop Hunt is perhaps a result in some part of the energetic way he plunged into that boot camp in the Uintah Basin. He was a young priest at the time, having been ordained in 1920 at the Cathedral of the Madeleine (the first ordination to take place there). After an apprenticeship as Assistant at the Cathedral (1920-22), Bishop Joseph S. Glass sent him to Vernal to meet with Catholics there and to survey the prospects for creating a parish. He spent eight months there in 1922 and 1923, living in a private home and saying Mass in a public hall. During the week, he traveled throughout Uintah and Duchesne Counties, which were to be the parish boundaries, interviewing Catholics and compiling notes for a report to the bishop. Father Hunt was a sober person not known for a great sense of humor, but some of his notes are inadvertently hilarious, particularly in their frank, outspoken assessment of things. In the following excerpts, I have of course omitted personal names.
One of the problems mentioned several times is that much of the economy of the Uintah Basin was livestock grazing which took people far from town:
"In mountains most of [the] time; has some faith."
"On ranch in Colorado most of [the]time. Never comes to Mass even when in Vernal."
Other problems had to do with people who had simply lost their faith:
"All [family] baptized, but wholly without faith or interest in the Church."
"Bad marriage; will do nothing; will not have her baby baptized."
"Is interested but lazy; not dependable; will not follow anything consistently."
"Has lost faith entirely; no good."
And some had problems with Hunt himself:
"Acts sullen; avoids me; does not come to Mass."
"Bad marriage; will do nothing; wife reasonable; had baby, ... baptized; came to Mass once; became sullen and obstinate."