Dr. James Booth and Samuel Thompson were prominent Catholics in this new town and decided that a church was needed. Just five years after the city was founded, the Vicar-Apostolic in Tucson, Ariz. authorized the building of St. Ann Church in Needles. It would be a mission of Yuma. The first pastor was Rev. Charles Ferrari, SJ, who built the new church in 1888. With Needles as a central location, the visiting priests would travel once a month to stations such as Blythe, Barstow and Randsburg, using the trans-desert railroad.
In 1890, the Catholic hierarchy reevaluated the situation and decided that since the parish was on the west bank of the Colorado River, it should be administered by the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles. Bishop Francis Mora of that Diocese dedicated St. Ann Church in the spring of 1890. The next pastor after the dedication of the new church was Rev. P. M. Bannion, who resided primarily at St. Malachy Church in Tehachapi and came to St. Ann monthly.
Rev. John Reynolds became the first resident pastor in 1897 and with his arrival, the sacramental records were kept in Needles. Rev. Matthias Ternes built the first parish rectory in 1903. On November 21, 1920, the first church was completely destroyed by fire due to defective wiring. At the time, it was the oldest building in Needles. Through the leadership of Rev. George Doyle, the second church was completed and dedicated by Bishop John Cantwell on May 2, 1921. St. Ann Parish became part of the Diocese of San Diego in 1936.
The longest serving pastor was Rev. Andrew Hanley (1948-1964). In 1952, Fr. Hanley joined with the parishioners in building a parish hall. For the first time, “parish socials” could be held on parish property. Fr. Hanley was also remembered for installing water coolers in the church. Fr. Hanley celebrated the 75th Anniversary of St. Ann’s Parish in 1962.
During the 1950’s Needles served as a Deanery in the Diocese of San Diego. Fr. Hanley was the Dean for the High Desert area. The parish continued to grow with a new rectory built by Rev. Robert Dickie in 1968. Two former altar boys from St. Ann’s have been ordained to the Priesthood. Msgr. James Booth went on to serve as Chancellor for the Diocese of San Diego and Rev. Gerald Meisel was ordained for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
In 1978, St. Ann’s Parish became part of the Diocese of San Bernardino. In 1987, Rev. Donald Casey led the 100th Anniversary celebration for the parish. In his anniversary letter, Fr. Casey wrote: “The cyclic rhythm from conception to birth is replayed in our parish each year as we welcome our many regular and temporary residents during the winter and then find ourselves struggling during the summer just to survive. Survive we have for 100 years.”
In 2013, the City of Needles celebrated its 100th Anniversary and St. Ann Parish celebrated its 125th Anniversary. The railroad, highways and isolation have been part of the history of both entities.
St. Ann Parish can be described in many ways: it is a small desert church located in the largest county in the United States; it has had the most pastors of any parish in our diocese (41); and it is the fourth oldest parish in the Diocese. Most importantly, the Catholic faith has been alive in that parish in three different centuries. The Diocese of San Bernardino proudly recognizes this special historical accomplishment for the Catholic community of St. Ann in the City of Needles.
Peter Bradley is Archivist in the Diocese of San Bernardino.