On April 16, 1922, a small group of Tucson’s Christian faithful banded together to establish the first permanent Methodist Episcopal Church, South, congregation in Tucson. It was named University Methodist Church, South, because of its location at 3rd St (now University Blvd) and Euclid Ave near the University of Arizona. Near by was First Methodist Church. north. built in 1881.
As University Methodist Church grew, it helped establish two churches on the west side and the Catalina Mission Church on the east side. The Catalina Mission Church bought land at the southeast corner of East Bellevue St and North Country Club Rd. Shortly thereafter, a surplus barracks-stye structure was moved from Ryan Army Air Field to the vacant lot. It became the congregation’s home.
In 1939, efforts were made to merge University and First churches. but the vote failed at University Church by one vote. Early in 1945 the Bishop of the Southern California-Arizona Annual Conference, directed that University Church should move, so in August, the Church acquired the entire city block bounded by East Speedway Blvd, North Sawtelle Ave, East First St, and North Treat Ave for $21,000. (That city block is the present site of Catalina.)
As University Church proceeded with its plans to move, the Catalina Mission merged with University Church. Initially the new church was referred to as the University-Catalina Methodist Church. The current Fellowship Hall was the first building on the new site and for five years was used as the Sanctuary. The old Ryan Army Air Field barracks were moved from the Catalina Mission site to become the first Sunday School building. The church grew rapidly. By 1951 it had 1,759 members. As the church grew, the Youth Center, the current Sanctuary, a Children’s Building, and an Adult Education and Music Building were constructed.
The history of Catalina would not be complete without mention of the Sunday Night Forums. For 35 years, the Forums brought speakers from around the world to Tucson such as: Martin Niemoller, Senator Margaret Chase, Chief Justice William O Douglas, Jackie Robinson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Barry Goldwater, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
By the early 1960s, the church’s membership reached 4,141. By this time, as the city’s growth was occurring on the east and north sides, many families moved from the church’s neighborhood. It began a time of membership decline. However, the decline in members has not affected the commitment and quality of ministry Catalina provides. During those years, Catalina helped establish many other United Methodist Congregations in Tucson.
Today, Catalina is an alive, vibrant and growing congregation. It offers the very best of traditional worship and contemporary worship. Young families are joining the church again and the young adult fellowship is growing. A great future lies ahead for this historic church that still services faithfully as the body of Christ.