St. Mary's Historical Past 1905-Present
Around the turn of the century, there were few Catholic families living in in the Santa Maria Valley. Those Catholics who did live here had to travel up to 25 miles to attend Mass in Guadalupe, Sisquoc, or Arroyo Grande. The priests who made the 40-mile trek from Santa Inez to Santa Maria to make sick calls, baptize babies, perform marriages, and to occasionally conduct services in private homes, knew that the time had come for Santa Maria to have a church of its own.
On August 20, 1905 the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated for the first time in Santa Maria by the Reverend Mathias Ternes at McMillan’s Hall (the opera house). The Reverend Ternes, who had been ordained in Rome on October 31, 1902, and appointed first rector to St. Mary of the Assumption by Bishop Thomas J. Conaty of Los Angeles, gave a rousing sermon that day about the needs of the parish. This, however, was only the beginning.
Two weeks later, after Rev. Ternes had rented the old Methodist church building, the first Mass was celebrated there and continued to be used as a place of worship for the area’s Catholics until a church of their own was built.
In less than a month, so generous were the donations and subscriptions, that Father Ternes felt that enough funds had been pledged to begin construction of a parish residence. A few days after the completion of the rectory on December 26, 1905, construction began at the intersection of Cypress and Miller Streets on a brick veneer church with a seating capacity of four hundred.
On February 11, 1906, the Reverend Stockman, Chancellor of the Dioceses of Monterey and Los Angeles, solemnly blessed and placed the cornerstone containing photos of Bishop Conaty and Father Ternes, names of the land benefactors, building benefactors, choir members, the contractor, coins and other articles. It was dedicated to the Most High God in honor of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with a number of the area’s clergymen taking part in the celebration.
The children’s choir with Marie Shaefer as organist provided the music. Monsignor Ribeiro of the Azores Island spoke to the people at this first Mass in Portuguese, English and Spanish. The I.D.E.S. of Santa Maria and Guadalupe attending in a body, marched up from their hall. The silver trowel, which was used in the ceremony, was presented to the person making the largest donation of the day.
Through the years, the Reverend Ternes made many friends and converts, and did much to promote the new church. When the Reverend Cohen was serving as pastor and heavy rains caused the area to be flooded with water, leaving the unpaved streets in a sad state of disrepair, he appealed to the city for help. However, the city fathers didn’t see things his way, and turned him down. Without further ado, the good Father borrowed a plow and grader, rolled up his sleeves and fixed the streets himself.
Well-remembered is Fr. Dubbel, St Mary’s pastor during the First World War. A forceful and vigorous man, he made many converts and was instrumental in thwarting the budding KKK organizations in the district during those years. Due in great part of his efforts, they were never able to get a real foothold in the community.
After him came Fr. Albert Hurley, who was one of the most popular pastors of Santa Maria.
When the Rev. Thomas V. Murphy, an Irishman who fell in love with his adopted country, became pastor of St. Mary’s on August 10, 1933, the only buildings standing were the church and the rectory. By September of 1938, with only a $20,000 note against them, a parochial school and convent, housing the Sisters of Saint Francis of Penance and Christian Charity, had been built to serve the growing community. By 1948, a $40,000 addition to the school was built and another $40,000 piece of property was purchased across the street from the church. In 1951, the convent was enlarged to provide space for additional teachers at the school.
With the Sisters of St. Francis already staffing St. Mary’s School, Monsignor Murphy requested that they also establish a hospital in Santa Maria. On November 22, 1939, ground was broken for the 35-bed facility located at 125 Airport Avenue (now College Drive).
As the years passed, and with over 2,000 Catholic families in town, the need for a larger church became apparent. In 1957, plans were drawn up by architect George J. Adams, and Doane Construction Company was contracted to build a new church to seat approximately 1,000 people.
Also included were plans for a new two-story rectory. When the first Mass was celebrated in the new church on September 14, 1958, the bells of the old St. Mary’s Church, relocated in the 100-foot tower of the new church, rang out to welcome the parishioners to Mass. Him Eminence, Cardinal McIntyre dedicated the new church on March 15, 1959.
St. Mary of the Assumption Church continued to serve the entire Santa Maria Valley until Cardinal McIntyre, seeing the ever-increasing growth in the Santa Maria and Orcutt area, felt that the needs of the community would be better met if the area were split into two parishes.
St. Louis de Montfort parish was created in March of 1963 to meet the needs of the people in the southern part of Santa Maria and Orcutt.
In July 1964, Father Kieran Marum was appointed as administrator at St. Mary’s under Msgr. Murphy. Msgr. Marum was ordained on June 19, 1943 at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Maynooth, Dublin, Ireland. He arrived in Los Angeles in 1948, where he taught high school and had parish assignments before coming to St. Mary of the Assumption.
On February 6, 1966, open house was held in the new Parish Hall, which had been constructed on the site of the former church on the corner of Miller and Cypress Streets. However, the expansion did not stop there.
In January 1968, two houses on the west of the Rectory on E. Church St. , a duplex on So. Miller (now Mgsr. Colberg’s home), as well as three garages were donated to St. Mary’s Church by Maria J. Vicente.
On April 27, 1973, the first Mass and blessing of the newly constructed Parish Center on West Orchard Street was held (now St. John Neumann’s Parish Hall). This multipurpose hall was built not only to serve as a place in which to hold Mass, but to hold CCD classes several times a week as well. In 1987, in order to handle the growing population of Catholics on the northwest side of the valley, St. John Neumann was established as parish.
In 1974 Msgr. Marum was reassigned to St. Finabar’s in Burbank and Msgr. James Colberg was appointed in his place as pastor, serving until his retirement in 1999. His place was taken by Fr. Riz Carranza, who was appointed to lead the people of St. Mary’s into the new millennium.
Gone are the days when a priest from Santa Inez made periodic trips into town to perform religious services for the little settlement of Catholics then living in this area. Even though St. Louis de Montfort and St. John Neumann Churches eased the crowded conditions of St. Mary’s, the number of parishioners, represented by many different cultures, continues to grow.
(Historical information from Fr. Francis Weber, Archivist of Archdiocese of Los Angeles, 1980 Commemorative book, and Shirley Contreras, Historian for Santa Maria Times newspaper.)