By Peter Bradley
Recently, a caller to the Archives Office inquired about a closed parish in the Diocese. They were surprised to learn that since the 1850’s, 20 parishes have closed in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. In this column, we will look at three closed parishes in San Bernardino County. In future columns, we will study some of the closed parishes in Riverside County.
ST. MICHAEL, LUDLOW
In 1922, Rev. C.T. Kerfs, the pastor at St. Joseph Parish in Barstow, received permission to build a chapel in Ludlow which is between Barstow and Needles. This desert community developed to support the nearby mining camps. Employees from several railroads also lived in the area. Fr. Kerf’s plan was to order the structure ready cut from Los Angeles once the local community had raised $1,000. By November of that year, the 100 Catholics in the area had raised the money and the building was ordered.
In January of 1923, St. Michael was approved as the name for the chapel that had 16 benches. It was dedicated in 1925 by Bishop Patrick McGovern from the Diocese of Cheyene at the invitation of Bishop John Cantwell from the Diocese of Los Angeles-San Diego. St. Michael would be a mission to St. Joseph, Barstow from 1923 – 1950.
Unfortunately, the wooden structure was destroyed by fire in 1931. The church members built a cement block church in 1935. The church went inactive after World War II for six years. St. Michael opened as a parish in 1951. It changed the next year and became a mission to St. Raymond in Amboy until 1962 when it closed, as the mining operations were shut down.
ST. CECILIA, ORO GRANDE
Mining is a big part of the history of San Bernardino County. Beginning in the 1880’s, coarse gold was produced in the area northwest of Victorville called Oro Grande. Later marble was discovered there as well. As the mining efforts increased a small community developed.
In 1921, Fr. Kerf asked permission from the Diocese of Monterrey and Los Angeles to purchase an old Protestant chapel in Oro Grande. Instead, Fr. Kerf decided to go in another direction and built a new building that was 40’ X 20’ with the assistance of $500.00 from the Catholic Extension Society in Chicago. The mission assigned to St. Joseph, Barstow would close from 1928 – 1942. During this time, the Riverside Cement Company purchased the mining operation. The residential area of Oro Grande became, in fact, a company town.
The mission opened again for just three years during World War II from 1942 – 1945. In 1956, Bishop Charles Buddy from the Diocese of San Diego wrote Rev. William Van Garsse at St. Joan of Arc Parish in Victorville asking if he had room for a second priest to work at St. Cecilia, which by that time was raised to a full parish. The first pastor was Rev. Modesto Capetillo.
The new parish needed a regular subsidy from the Diocese of San Diego to meet its financial needs. In 1960, Rev. Carmino Porro obtained permission from Bishop Buddy to build a new mission in Adelanto; the church was completed in 1966.
Fr. Captetillo, the first pastor, became the last pastor when the parish closed in 1966. St. Cecilia’s was a mission of St. Joseph, Barstow from 1966-1970. From 1970-1975, it was a mission of St. Joan of Arc. The mission closed in 1975, and the property was sold.
ST. RAYMOND, AMBOY
The Catholic parish was founded in 1950 and initially named St. Bridget’s before being renamed St. Raymond the next year. The first pastor was Rev. Patrick Malone, who leased an old house in town that would serve as the priest’s quarters and temporary chapel. There was daily Mass there and Sunday services were at 6 a.m. and 8 a.m.
Fr. Malone received a donation of land for the church from Roy Crowl, the owner of many properties in Amboy. Bishop Buddy from the Diocese of San Diego visited Amboy in March of 1950 to inform Fr. Malone that financial assistance to build the Church would come from the Catholic Extension Society in Chicago.
The second pastor, Rev. Joseph Stadler, began the construction of the new church and the rectory. The Church was built of stucco and sat over 100 people. He estimated that there were 40 Catholic families in the area.
It was Rev. Leo Hanley who completed the construction of the Church. He came from a large parish in Chicago and was initially discouraged with the challenge facing him. Fr. Hanley was quoted after his first Sunday at the parish: “I saw those children and their great need. I did not want to renege and let them down.” Mrs. Francis Staples, the Catholic spouse of the Superintendent of the local salt mine, was a key leader in the parish who assisted Fr. Hanley.
With the help of his parishioners, who worked at the salt mines and the railroad, Fr. Hanley completed the church. Bishop Buddy came on March 8, 1951 to dedicate the church and confirm the first group of young people. Even with the help of local Catholics and non-Catholics alike, the lack of money was a major concern. Fr. Hanley returned to Chicago during the summer to conduct fundraising among his friends and supporters.
Over the next 15 years, there would be nine additional pastors at St. Raymond’s. The parish oversaw St. Michael’s Mission at Ludlow for ten years. The last pastor was Rev. Adalbert Kowalski when the parish closed on August 3, 1970. The property was returned to the original owner in 1981.
Peter Bradley is Archivist in the Diocese of San Bernardino.