The Catholic Church’s presence in the San Jacinto area goes back over two centuries. As the first Franciscan missions began in 1769, it was necessary to establish an interior supply route from Mexico. In 1774, Captain Juan Bautista De Anza began at Sonora, traveled through Arizona, crossed over the San Jacinto Mountains on his way to the Mission San Gabriel. He camped in the San Jacinto area on the trip. Rev. Francisco Garces, a member of the expedition, celebrated Mass in the Riverside area on March 21, 1774.
Around 1819, Mission San Luis Rey found it necessary to establish several cattle ranches to support the growing mission population. One of these ranches was called Rancho San Jacinto; It extended from the San Jacinto Mountains to where the city of Corona is located today. A priest from the Mission came monthly to celebrate Mass at the ranch headquarters on Casa Loma. In 1833, the Missions were secularized by the new revolutionary government in Mexico.
Governor Pio Pico in 1842 gave Don Jose Antonio Estudillo 35,000 acres of the original ranch. It was called Rancho San Jacinto Viejo. Regular church services continued at the new ranch.
In the late 1860’s, the original grant was divided under court decree and sold to investors and individuals. Rev. Peter Verdaguer and Rev. P.J. Stockman from St. Bernardine Parish in San Bernardino came on a regular basis to San Jacinto to celebrate Mass and the Sacraments. In 1878, the Bishop of the Monterey-Los Angeles Diocese confirmed seven people in San Jacinto.
Fr. Stockman made the determination that enough Catholic people lived in the area to justify a church closer to the center of town than the old ranch chapel northwest of town. In 1890, he founded St. Mary’s Parish (first parish name) in San Jacinto on land donated by Francisco Estudillo. The property was located on Seventh Street from Victoria to Santa Fe Street. The church was built in 1891 and dedicated by the Bishop in 1892.
In 1893, Riverside County was formed out of San Diego and San Bernardino counties. This development resulted in several church adjustments. For St. Mary Mission, they would now be connected to St. Boniface Chapel in Banning instead of St. Bernardine Parish. Rev. Florian Hahn, the priest at St. Boniface, made frequent trips to the Native American reservations. To accommodate these travels, he built a room onto the east side of the San Jacinto church so a priest could sleep overnight.
In 1896, the mission came under the care of St. Francis de Sales Parish in Riverside. Finally, in 1905, the mission became a full parish and was renamed St. Anthony. The first pastor was Rev. Lambert Weishaar, who served from 1905-1907.
With the end of World War I, the southern part of Riverside County began to grow. St. Anthony was the mother parish for church communities in Temecula, Hemet and Idyllwild in the 1930’s and 1940’s. The parish also served several Native American chapels that included Soboba, Warner Springs, San Ysidro, and Santa Rosa.
As the Catholic population grew in the San Jacinto valley, a new church was built in 1940. The stained glass windows from the mission church were moved into the new church. The wooden building was then converted into a parish hall, until 1957 when it was torn down. In 1946, following the World War II population growth, the parish added an elementary school named St. Hyacinth Academy to serve the entire San Jacinto Valley.
The parish has had 32 pastors in its 125 year history:
1890–1893 Mission of St. Bernardine, San Bernardino; 1893–1905 Mission of St. Francis de Sales; 1905–1907 Rev. Lambert Weishaar; 1907–1908 Rev. L.J. Davis; 1908–1910 Rev. William Hughes.
1910–1912 Rev. J.J. Burri; 1912–1918 Rev. J. F. Mitchell; 1918–1919 Rev. Johannes Purtill; 1919–1921 Rev. James Lempany; 1921–1924 Rev. Edmond Keohan; 1924–1927 Rev. Patrick Curran; 1927–1929 Rev. E. Henry.
1929–1930 Rev. P. O’Dowd; 1930–1931 Rev. J. Hennessey; 1931–1932 Rev. C. J. Bradley; 1932–1934 Rev. Thomas Dowling; 1934–1936 Rev. John McHale; 1937–1939 Rev. M. T. Browne; 1939–1943 Rev. Malachy O’Sullivan.
1943–1948 Rev. Joseph Mackey; 1948–1953 Rev. John Bland; 1953–1954 Msgr. George Rice; 1954 Rev. Edward Johnson; 1954–1955 Rev. Bernard Sheerin; 1955–1964 Rev. James Creaton; 1964–1968 Rev. Hugh McNelis.
1968–1970 Rev. Jerry Sims; 1970–1979 Rev. Stanley Jazbec; 1979–1985 Rev. Louis Marx; 1985–1997 Rev. Charles Devine; 1997–1998 Rev. Paul Schmidt, SVD; 1998–2007 Rev. Ciro Libanti; 2007–2009 Rev. Arturo Monzon–Balagat; 2009- Rev. Cristobal Subosa.
Congratulations to the parish community of St. Anthony in San Jacinto as it celebrates its 125th Anniversary this year. This early Catholic community has exemplified the challenge of our Diocesan Vision to impact family, neighborhood and society with the Gospel so that people’s lives are filled with hope.
Peter Bradley is Director of the Office of Archives in the Diocese of San Bernardino.