Since the establishment of the Vicariate Apostolic of the Nebraska Territory in 1859, ten prelates, have served in the area.
Bishop James Miles O’Gorman: 1859 to 1874
When Bishop O’Gorman arrived in 1859, the vicariate covered 357,000 square miles, including what is now the state of Nebraska, northeastern Colorado, Wyoming, and parts of Utah, Montana and the Dakotas.
Making matters all the more challenging was the fact that Bishop O’Gorman had only three priests to assist him. Bishop O’Gorman didn’t waste any time addressing the manpower shortage ordaining Father William Kelly on June 25, 1859.
When Bishop O’Gorman died in 1874, the vicariate had 19 priests serving 12,000 Catholics in 20 parishes and 56 missions. The first of these prelates was Bishop James Miles O’Gorman, a Trappist from New Melleray Monastery near Dubuque, Iowa.
Bishop James O’Connor: 1876 to 1891
Bishop James O’Connor was appointed to replace Bishop O’Gorman in 1876. In 1880, the Dakotas were separated and the Diocese of Sioux Falls was established. Montana was dropped three years later. In 1885, the Diocese of Omaha, consisting of Nebraska and Wyoming, was established.
During Bishop O’Connor’s administration, many of Omaha’s older parishes were founded and the Franciscan Fathers arrived in the area.
After the Creighton family gave Bishop O’Connor the college they had endowed, Creighton University was entrusted to the Society of Jesus in 1878.
Bishop Richard Scannell: 1891 to 1916
Bishop Richard Scannell came to the diocese in 1891. Under Bishop Scannell, the western part of the diocese became the Diocese of Kearney in 1912. Five years later, the See city was changed to Grand Island.
During Bishop Scannell’s administration, the cornerstone for St. Cecilia’s Cathedral was laid in 1907. He also oversaw the diocese’s expansion to 95 parishes, with the parishes serving more than 80,000 Catholics.
Bishop Jeremiah Harty: 1916 to 1927
After Bishop Scannell died in 1916, Bishop Jeremiah Harty of Manila was transferred from the Philippines to Omaha. While in the Philippines, Bishop Harty administered a large diocese with a Catholic population of 1,368,795. The rigors of his office harmed his health, so he was looking forward to taking over a smaller diocese, such as Omaha, where there were less than 100,000 active Catholics.
After serving the diocese for 11 years from 1916 to 1927, Bishop Harty fell ill with influenza. He was forced to move to Tucson, Arizona, where he was cared for by the Sisters of St. Joseph. He never recovered his health. He died in Arizona in 1927.
During Harty’s illness and after his death, Bishop Francis Beckman of Lincoln was appointed apostolic administrator of the Omaha Diocese. He served from 1926 to 1928.
Bishop Joseph Francis Rummel: 1928 to 1935
A German-born, New York City priest was appointed the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Omaha. Joseph Francis Rummel was installed in 1928.
One of the highlights of Bishop Rummel’s tenure in Omaha was the Sixth National Eucharistic Congress in 1930. Large crowds attended the three-day conference on Sept. 23-25, including more than 40,000 at a rally at Creighton University Stadium, 10,000 for an event at Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum and more than 1,000 at the children’s Mass at the cathedral. Among the dignitaries attending the conference were: Cardinal George Mundelein of Chicago, Bishop Joseph Schrembs of Cleveland, and Bishop Pietro Fumasoni-Biondi, apostolic delegate in the U.S.
During his tenure, Bishop Rummel organized the Bishop’s Committee of the Laity. His intention was to convert the committee into a semi-permanent fund-raising organization. But the Depression hit and Bishop Rummel’s ambitious goals went unfulfilled.
Bishop Rummel left in 1935 to become the archbishop of New Orleans.
Archbishop James Hugh Ryan: 1935 to 1947
Prior to coming to Omaha, Bishop Ryan, a gifted scholar, served as the rector of The Catholic University of America for seven years. His books included An Introduction of Philosophy and A Catechism of Catholic Education.
Bishop James Hugh Ryan led the diocese from 1935 to 1947. The diocese became an archdiocese on Oct. 10, 1945, making Ryan the first to hold the title of Archbishop of Omaha.
Archbishop Gerald Thomas Bergan: 1947 to 1969
After Archbishop Ryan’s death in 1947, Bishop Gerald Thomas Bergan of Des Moines was named the second archbishop of Omaha.
During his 21 years as head of the archdiocese, Archbishop Bergan was known as the “building bishop” due to the physical growth and improvements of archdiocesan institutions. The total cost of Church-related construction between 1948 and 1969 amounted to well over $100 million.
Archbishop Bergan was also fond of reminding Omaha’s secular authorities that the archdiocese was saving the state of Nebraska more than $10 million annually in school costs.
In 1959, the Archdiocese of Omaha celebrated its centennial the same year that Archbishop Bergan observed his 25th anniversary as a bishop. In observance of the centennial, St. Cecilia Cathedral’s twin towers were completed. Archbishop Bergan formally consecrated the cathedral on April 9, 1959.
Archbishop Daniel E. Sheehan: 1969 to 1993
Archbishop Bergan received an auxiliary bishop in 1964, when Msgr. Daniel E. Sheehan was consecrated a prelate at a ceremony at the cathedral. After Archbishop Bergan retired in 1969, Auxiliary Bishop Sheehan was named his replacement. On Aug. 8, 1969 he was installed as Omaha’s third archbishop, a position he held for nearly 24 years.
A native of Emerson, NE, he was the first native son of the archdiocese to hold the office of Archbishop of Omaha. Archbishop Sheehan has earned a national reputation for his support of Catholic education. His campaign for educational excellence raised more than $26 million to improve Catholic education in the Omaha Metropolitan Area.
During Archbishop Sheehan’s tenure, the archdiocese was a front-runner in applying development methods for the support of Catholic education. Many of the archdiocese’s schools have endowments and there is a tuition support program to help needy youth attend elementary and secondary Catholic schools.
In recognition of his dedication to Catholic schools, the National Catholic Educational Association presented Archbishop Sheehan with the Elizabeth Ann Seton Award in 1992.
Responding to the Second Vatican Council’s challenge for personal and institutional renewal within the Church, Archbishop Sheehan led efforts to establish the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council (APC) in the early 1970s. He gathered representatives from the ranks of the clergy, religious communities and laity to lay the groundwork for a pastoral council that would share in the local church’s decision-making process.
Due to APC action, archdiocesan emphasis has been placed on improving family life, youth and young adult ministry, evangelization, social and rural life issues and Hispanic ministry. In 1983, the APC was held as part of the “Loved and Sent” celebration of faith. The event drew more than 15,000 to the Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum in Omaha. At the time, it was the largest gathering of archdiocesan Catholics in more than two decades.
In the late 1980s, Archbishop Sheehan led a campaign to raise funds for archdiocesan improvements, including a $4.5 million refurbishment of the St. James Center.
Archbishop Daniel E. Sheehan retired in 1993 and was Called to his Eternal Reward October 24, 2000.
Archbishop Elden Francis Curtiss: 1993 to 2009
He was ordained a bishop and installed as Bishop of Helena, Montana on April 28, 1976. He served the diocese for 17 years until his appointment to Omaha. Archbishop Elden Francis Curtiss was installed as Archbishop of Omaha on June 25, 1993. He is the ninth ordinary and the fourth archbishop to lead the church of northeast Nebraska.
Since becoming the Archbishop of Omaha, he has directed a successful fund-raising campaign to provide a retirement home for priests, tuition relief for students at Catholic high schools, seminary endowment, archdiocesan centers for adult and youth activities, archdiocesan ministry needs and roof repairs at St. Cecilia Cathedral.
In addition to the spiritual and administrative responsibilities of the archdiocese, Archbishop Curtiss is a member of the Pontifical Council on the Family, president and chairman of the Board for The Catholic Mutual Group insurance company and Boys Town.
He is the NCCB episcopal advisor to Serra International, a member of the NCCB Committee on Marriage and Family Life and the NCCB Ad Hoc Committee for the implementation of the National Strategy for Vocations. He is also a board member for the Catholic Church Extension Society and Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.