A brief geography review – the Diocese of San Bernardino is comprised of San Bernardino and Riverside counties. The town of Trona is located in the upper north west corner of San Bernardino county, where the counties of Kern, Inyo and San Bernardino come together.
St. Madeleine Sophie Barat parish has the distinction of being the northern most parish in the Diocese.
Like all of our remote desert parishes, St. Madeleine Sophie Barat has a unique and special history. The mission was founded in 1924 by the Diocese of Los-Angeles-San Diego. It was served by priests who came from Tehachapi, Lancaster, Barstow and Victorville. The original name of the mission was St. Margaret Mary.
In 1936, St. Madeleine Sophie Barat became part of the Diocese of San Diego. The first church was built that year. The following year, the mission became a full parish with a resident priest, Rev. James Grady. The parish was renamed St. Madeleine Sophie Barat.
With the nearby Searles Lake containing a large deposit of diversified chemicals, Trona is truly a company town. In 1958, Rev. Rene Peter built the second church on land donated by the American Potash and Chemical Corporation. The cost of the church was $57,815.00.
What makes the church stand out is its unique architecture. Fr. Peter, with no formal training in church design, built the structure following the universal Catholic teaching of the Holy Trinity. The symbolical triangle is evident in both the exterior and interior of the Church.
Even the altar in the church contains the triangular concept. St. Madeleine Sophie Barat is clearly a spiritual landmark standing in the midst of the solitude of the desert.
In 1978, the parish became part of the Diocese of San Bernardino. Today, St. Madeleine Sophie Barat is a mission of St. Joseph Parish in Barstow. Over the last 82 years, there have been 25 pastors. The presence of the Catholic faith in Trona is a reminder to us that God’s light and love can be found in all corners of the Diocese.
Peter Bradley is Archivist for the Diocese of San Bernardino.