St. Michael Parish, Ludlow and St. Cecilia Parish, Oro Grande
Rev. Charles Kerfs was born in Germany and ordained on August 10, 1906. He arrived in California in 1921 from a parish in Nebraska. He was assigned as pastor at St. Joseph Parish in Barstow.
The pastor at St. Joseph at that time was responsible for several missions besides the parish. His monthly schedule included: St. Joseph Parish on the first Sunday of the month where people from outlying areas such as Kramer and Helendale would also attend; the second Sunday was a trip to Oro Grande and Victorville; Ludlow was the destination on the third Sunday; and Blythe was the location on the fourth Sunday of the month.
Fr. Kerfs traveled each weekend to these missions by train. The roads at that time were very primitive. It took three hours to travel over a sand road to Ludlow, 56 miles east of Barstow. The priest would ride in the caboose of the freight train.
It did not take Fr. Kerfs long to conclude that all of his missions needed a chapel if they were to flourish. In March, 1922, he built a small chapel along with three rooms in the back at Oro Grande. The Catholic Extension Society provided $500, an altar, stations of the cross and altar supplies. The church was named St. Cecilia.
Also in 1922, Fr. Kerfs built a new chapel in Ludlow for the 100 Catholics living there. Through a successful fiesta, the local Catholic families raised $1000. Fr. Kerfs donated the remaining $500 to complete the church. It was named St. Michael.
In May, 1924, Fr. Kerf was able to secure church benches for both chapels. In 1925, Bishop Patrick McGovern, from the Diocese of Cheyene, Wyoming formally dedicated both churches.
St. Michael’s Mission was destroyed by fire in 1931. A cement block church was built in 1935. St. Michael’s briefly became a full parish until 1942 when it reverted to mission status. It was inactive from 1945-51, when it reopened with its own pastor for one year and then became a mission of St. Raymond, Amboy. St. Michael’s closed in 1962.
St. Cecilia’s also experienced many struggles. It was closed in 1928 after Fr. Kerfs’ departure. Then the parish reopened during World War II as a mission to St. Joseph in Barstow. After a second period of inactive status from 1945-1957, it opened again as a full parish. This continued until 1966 when it reverted once more to mission status under Barstow. From 1970-75, it was a mission of Victorville when it closed for a third and final time.
Economic changes largely related to railroading and mining created a major negative impact on these small desert communities, which in turn affected the local Catholic churches. Both these parishes will be remembered as part of Fr. Kerfs’ “railroad parishes” from 1921-27.
Blessed Sacrament, Alberhill
In March, 1924 Rev. C. Norman Raley, pastor of Our Lady of the Lake parish in Lake Elsinore received permission from the Diocese of Los Angeles-San Diego to proceed with negotiations to secure a lot in Alberhill (north of Lake Elsinore) for a new church. Gladding-McBean Co. leased two acres of land to the Diocese for 100 years.
The Alberhill mission was built in 1927 by the local clay workers using kiln dried bricks in the Gladding-Bean ovens. The mission would serve the people working at the clay factory who lived in company housing around the plant.
In 1948, a rectory was built and the church was raised to full parish status. The first pastor was Rev. J.J. Macias. The parish received a regular subsidy from the Catholic Extension Society to help with expenses. Rev. Patrick Malone was the longest serving pastor from 1949-60.
In 1963, Pacific Clay Products purchased Gladding-McBean Co. During 1965, the Diocese of San Diego decided to close the parish. The Diocesan Consultors based the decision on the small number of homes remaining after the company’s expansion of plant facilities; there was no new development within three miles of Alberhill; and the public school in the area had also closed.
The closure of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Alberhill was similar to the relocation of St. Augustine Parish in Eagle Mountain (1982) to Lake Tamarisk (between Indio and Blythe). Both churches were built to serve the workers at a large industrial plant. When there were major changes at the plant, it affected the local community as well as the Catholic church.
St. Theresa Parish, San Bernardino
Founded in 1941 as St. Teresita’s Chapel, a mission to Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. Monsignor Jose Nunez, pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe, rented a small house near his parish to serve as the mission church for the Spanish speaking in the area. With some savings and a loan from Bishop Charles Buddy of the San Diego Diocese, Msgr. Nunez purchased two lots at the corner of “I” Street and Congress St. in San Bernardino. The church was built at that location in 1950.
In 1954, it was raised to a full parish and renamed St. Theresa. The parish was to serve the Hungarian community in the two counties and Mexican-Americans in the immediate neighborhood. The first pastor was Rev. Stephan Koloszar, who built the parish hall. When Highway 215 was built through the city just a block from the church, it changed the neighborhood forever as many homes were purchased for the project.
The second pastor, Rev. Joseph Varga, paid off the debt and renovated the church. In 1978, Monsignor Michael Nolan became the third and final pastor for the parish. Msgr. Nolan established the Mission Center of the Diocese along with the Office for the Propagation of the Faith at St. Theresa. Bishop Philip Straling appointed Rev. Joseph Trong to St. Theresa Parish in order to begin a Sunday Vietnamese Mass and Vietnamese ministry in the San Bernardino area.
In 1992, Msgr. Nolan retired. With the Mission Office transferred, only 40 some families remained in the area. Working with the parish leaders, the Diocese was not able to find a new beginning for St. Theresa. The steps to suppress the parish began. Then in 1993, the Melkite-Greek Catholic Community was given use of the church.
In conclusion, the closure of parishes and missions during the last 160 years can be traced to outside influences that determined their final fate. In all cases, these communities of faith believed, lived and worshipped with dedication and service. The life and faith of our Diocese in 2012 is graced by their past holiness and ministry. May these parishes always have a prominent place in our church history !
Peter Bradley is archvist in the Diocese of San Bernardino.