In the early '70s the concept of coming together to honor Our Lady in the month of the Holy Rosary was presented to then Bishop Edward McCarthy, the first Bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix. On October 3, 1976, the first Rosary Sunday celebration was held at St. Francis Xavier Church on Central Avenue in Phoenix; over 1,500 people attended. With such an enthusiastic response to the program, it was immediately evident that a larger venue was needed. As a result Rosary Sunday was held the following year in the Brophy College Preparatory School Gym; the attendance continued to grow. By 1985, attendance at Rosary Sunday exceed the capacity of any single Catholic Church in the Diocese of Phoenix. Therefore, in the 9th year, the celebration moved to Phoenix Civic Plaza (now Phoenix Convention Center) where it attracted national and international speakers and guests. Among them were noted individuals such as Cardinal Timothy Manning, Archbishop Nicholas Elko, Mother Angelica, Fr. Sebastian of the Missionaries of Charity, Msgr. Josefino Ramirez of the Philippines, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Fr. Patrick Peyton (now Servant of God), Fr. Mitch Pacwa, and many others.
For twenty years the Legion of Mary was the sole sponsor of Rosary Sunday with the cooperation of many organizations such as the Knights of Columbus, Catholic Daughters of the Americas, Charismatic Renewal Ministries, and several others. In 1985, the Knights of Columbus joined the Legion of Mary as primary co-sponsors to Rosary Sunday; with the continued cooperation of many organizations. In 2006, the Knights of Columbus became sole primary sponsor with the close cooperation and assistance of the Legion of Mary.
An impressive and colorful highlight of the annual Rosary event is the Blessing Procession, which includes over 1,000 participants from organizations, families and ethnic groups throughout the Diocese. Over 200 altar servers participate every year. Fr. Thomas Feeley, CSC, keynote speaker in 1998, was so impressed by this gathering of altar servers that he wrote an article about it in a national publication.
Bishops, priests and religious have played a vital role in the yearly October Rosary event. The encouragement and support of Most Reverend Thomas J. O'Brien and Most Reverend Thomas J. Olmsted, the former and current Bishops of the Diocese of Phoenix, have been essential to the event's growth in popularity and success. A debt of gratitude is also owed to the late Bishop William Gomes, the late Rev. Darrell Finnegan, S.J., the late Rev. Edmond Smyth, S.J., and to countless other priests and religious who have played instrumental roles in the growth of Rosary Sunday.
So many individuals, organizations and groups have contributed greatly in making Rosary Sunday the largest, longest continuous annual Rosary event held in a public venue in the United States. It is the largest annual gathering of Catholics in Arizona. In 2011, a new chapter in the history of Rosary Sunday was written as this wonderful spiritual event was held in both the Diocese of Tucson and the Diocese of Phoenix, making it truly a statewide event. In fitting recognition of this transformation, the name of the annual rosary celebration was christened the Arizona Rosary Celebration. In 2014, the Knights of Columbus gained non-profit status under Section 501(c)(3) of the internal Revenue code so that the generosity of the event's patrons could be tax deductible as allowable under the law.
Through the centuries, the power of the Rosary has changed the course of history. May Our Lady of the Rosary continue to guide this event in Arizona and multiply its fruits.