Visitors to the Cathedral of the Madeleine are often puzzled by the two stained glass windows opposite each other that were donated by "Miss Ellen Hayes," one in her own name and one in memory of her brother, William.What single woman would have had that much money to donate?The mystery deepens when we learn that she also donated the original organ, at a cost variously reported as $15,000 or $25,000.Who was Miss Ellen Hayes?
Outside of the occasional schoolteacher and multitudes of prostitutes, single women were a rarity on the western frontier.Ellen Hayes was a practitioner of neither of those professions; she was an Ely, Nevada businesswoman who, with her older brother William, amassed a considerable fortune first of all in the laundry business, then later in the general merchandise and hotel businesses, from which they branched out into ranching, real estate, and mining.The Hayeses, in other words, were among those wise business people like Levi Strauss in San Francisco, who saw better prospects mining the miners than the mines.
There were four siblings in the Hayes family, two of whom were Catholic priests: one lived in England and the other, Edward, pastored a church in Imogen, Iowa.William Hayes emigrated from their native Ireland to California at age twenty in 1869, and his sister Ellen followed him in 1884 at age twenty-eight.Eventually they sought to make their fortune in the Nevada mining camps and wound up in Ely.Neither William nor Ellen ever married, and when William died in 1904 he left his estate to his sister, making her a very wealthy person.
Ellen Hayes took her Catholic faith very seriously and was one of the founders of Sacred Heart parish in Ely and of the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City (until 1931 the parishes in eastern Nevada were part of the Diocese of Salt Lake City).Although there was only a meager number of Catholics in Ely when she first arrived, she maintained a room in her house where she could gather them together for Mass whenever a priest happened to be in town.After the turn of the twentieth century, when the railroad arrived, making mining much more profitable and bringing a large influx of people including Catholics, Miss Hayes began campaigning to her friend Bishop Scanlan for an Ely parish.She donated land for a church and contributed generously to its construction.The church was completed in 1906 and in 1907 it received its first resident pastor.
Sadly, Miss Hayes died in August, 1909, less than two weeks before the dedication of the Cathedral of the Madeleine to which she had contributed so much.She did, however, attend a special inaugural organ concert the previous April in which Cathedral organist Nora Gleason demonstrated the capabilities of the instrument.
Ellen Hayes left her estate to the diocese, stipulating, however, that the gift was conditional upon using some of the money to build a Catholic hospital for miners in Ely.For unknown reasons the diocese was unable to fulfill that condition, leaving much of the money legally tied up until 1931 when the Diocese of Reno was created and the money was divided among the Ely parish, Holy Cross Hospital in Salt Lake City, and the Diocese of Reno.